Is Polish hard to learn? For many reasons, some more valid than others, there is a widespread belief that it is actually extremely hard. If you’ve ever told a fellow language-lover that you’ve taken up Polish lessons, you must know what we are talking about. That pat on the shoulder? The compassionate look that seems to say “poor you”?
First off, let us just say that no language is impossible to learn. With the right materials, lots of exposure, and especially, a great amount of motivation, mastering Polish shouldn’t be harder than mastering any other foreign language.
However, because this question keeps coming up, here is an honest analysis of why many English speakers answer “Yes!” to “Is Polish hard to learn?”
What Makes Polish So Difficult?
Although every student might find different aspects of Polish more challenging than others depending on their learning style and natural abilities, there are three features of this language that most learners usually cite as the hardest. Before we delve into them, remember there’s still a possibility that you’ll cruise through these difficulties with grace. As always, the right methodology and lots of practice will surely play a big part.
1. Polish Pronunciation Is Tricky
Have you ever had a cat? Then you know how much they like to climb on computer keyboards and type cryptic messages. Still, not even the most creative feline could come up with the following combination of characters. Pięćdziesięciogroszówka, which literally means “a coin of 50 cents”, is one of the longest and hardest words to pronounce in the Polish language. It is so difficult that, in order to avoid making potentially endless mistakes, you might want to tell the cashier to keep the change should they make a mistake and fail to give you your pięćdziesięciogroszówka.
Though this word is particularly hard and unusually long, it is true that complicated consonant clusters are very common in the Polish language. At the same time, symbols like ‘sz’, ‘ś’, ‘ź’, and ‘dż’ appear in almost every phrase, and getting them is bound to take some time.
2. Polish Has Three Grammatical Genders…
English speakers often scratch their heads at the concept of grammatical genders. “What do you mean that the la mesa (the table) is a she and el escritorio (the desk) is a he?”, they ask their Spanish teacher.
Polish makes the gender pill harder to swallow by having not two but three different categories: masculine, feminine, and neutral. Luckily, distinguishing Polish genders is far easier than it might seem. Most often, feminine nouns end in “-a”, neuter ones end in “-o”, and nouns with other endings are usually masculine.
More good news: Polish doesn’t use any articles, so you won’t have to trouble yourself by memorising different kinds of “a’s” and “the’s”.
3. …and Seven Grammatical Cases
At this point, you might be thinking: OK, but what is a grammatical case anyway?
Grammatical cases tell us what role a word fulfils in a sentence. In simple terms, a noun’s or pronoun’s case signals the relationship between that word and other words in the sentence. Most languages have four basic grammatical cases: nominative or subjective, accusative or objective, dative (when the word is the indirect object), and genitive or possessive.
The Polish case system, however, is much more complex than that, with different cases for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives including instrumental, locative, and vocative. This basically means that Polish words have 7 different conjugations. While not impossible to learn, we have to be honest here: you might find yourself throwing things across the room once or twice throughout your learning process.
The Upside of Learning Polish
Is Polish hard to learn, then? Well, when it comes to mastering the pronunciation of long consonant clusters, a three-fold gender system, and its seven grammatical cases, it would seem that it is.
However, it is not all bad news. In some regards, Polish is actually easy to learn. When it comes to its phonetic system, for example, Polish is very straightforward. This means that once you master the alphabet, you know it for life. This is because the spelling-to-sound rules are so simple that you won’t ever have to wonder how a letter is articulated. Its pronunciation will be the same in all contexts.
Still not convinced? What if we told you that Polish has fewer tenses than English? For example, if you went for a walk, you can say: “I went for a walk”, “I’ve walked”, or “I’ve been walking”. There are just so many ways in which we can talk about past actions. In Polish, however, all three are covered by saying “szedłem”.
So, is Polish hard to learn? All in all, although it’s true that some aspects of Polish might test your patience, there are some aspects of this language that are actually fairly easy. As with any other language, the key to a successful and ultimately enjoyable learning experience is to come across the right resources and to find ways to keep motivated. At Listen & Learn, we work with fully qualified native Polish tutors and personalised courses designed to meet every student’s preferences and current skills. Send us a quick enquiry and we’ll be glad to get back to you with more information.