I have been thinking about this issue for so long.
I often interact with other learners or people who are motivated with learning Polish. I sometimes see myself in some of them, while others… seem to have chosen another approach for the language which may affect their learning in the long term. As someone who wants to make language learning a joyful, yet realistic experience… It’s time to debunk some myths about Polish and Polish learning.
- Polish IS the hardest language in the world and it IS impossible to master it as even native speakers make mistakes in it. This is a common sentence found in so many websites and repeated ad nauseam by native Polish speakers and Polish learners alike (and usually with some nationalistic connotations). First of all, according to whom? Are all languages alike, first of all?
Yes, it has cases, but they DO make sense once you study them throughly. Hard pronunciation? Ehm… no click sounds? And what about tenses? I think it is quite good to narrow down verb tenses into a few ones.
You can find people making mistakes in their native languages everywhere. I even make mistakes in Spanish. The thing is by repeating this sentence you are giving the wrong signal about how languages work.
- If you are a foreigner, don’t worry about grammar… people will understand you anyways! I’ve heard this mainly from Poles. Yes, I’ll probably be understood if I am interacting with Poles as a 1-week tourist who is doing sightseeing and so. Of course, I won’t be expected to master that language for a short visit. However, grammar is fundamental in order to become an independent speaker, as in someone who can create their own sentences with no help and can be understood. Someone who is able to answer and ask back questions or giving opinions. Also, by having a good command of grammar, you’ll be able to be seen as an equal and not an outsider.
- POLISH PRONUNCIATION IS HARD! Again… it may be true if you only speak one language and if you’ve never heard or even been exposed to another language or even dialect. The thing is… you can probably have an accent and still not master certain sound clusters or so, but other than that, Polish has a decent and manageable sound repertoire. You might want to pay attention to your ś, ć, ż, ź, sz, cz and rz… but you can get there by paying attention to your tongue positions. You can practice those things by listening, reading aloud or even rehearsing small speeches.
- Hej przyjacielu! Many foreigners (including myself when I started) have made this mistake that Poles might not feel comfortable with. This sentence is often translated to “Hi, friend!” because przyjaciel gets translated to “friend” in most dictionaries. Yet, that’s not what it means. A “przyjaciel” is exactly a close friend. People might perceive it as pushy and not honest when you call “close friend” to people you’ve just met and you’ve thought they are cool. However, you can use two other words in Polish that can describe what other people might consider “friend”: znajomy and kolega. Znajomy literally means “acquaintance”, but it often carries a positive connotation. Even Facebook uses “znajomy” for a Facebook friend. It is totally acceptable and normal to use that word or even tell someone you are going out with “a couple of acquaintances” without worrying you’ll be abducted. “Kolega” is often used as “buddy” or “colleague” (from work or classes) and it can also be used with a positive connotation (or you can use also the German loan word, kumpel). So, don’t feel offended if someone doesn’t use the p-word with you!
- Polish has irregular grammar and nonsense rules you’ll never understand! No, no and no! I have yet to see a language (except for conlangs) that has 100% regular grammar and consistent in its rules. Most, if not all, of them have certain exceptions that sometimes you probably learn them by heart or you need to work harder in order to understand their logic or how that verb or preposition works. Polish has plenty of those rules in which a certain preposition and case might screw up your sentence, but I have seen that happening in many languages, even Spanish. Or even you might not get a detailed and full explanation on why this and why no that, but that is not exclusive to Polish per se. Maybe a good and detailed Grammar guide is what you might need or an educated native speaker/advanced learner who might explain you rules in detail.
I hope you have enjoyed seeing those myths debunked!
Do you know more myths about Polish that need to be debunked? Have you heard similar things while learning other languages? Please, share them in the comments!