A new year. A fresh start. A clean slate. The beginning of a new calendar year makes everything seems possible again. I will finally read a Norman Davies from cover to cover. I’ll resist having ciasto drożdżowe for coffee break. I’ll learn to cook jellied carp properly. But on my eternal wish list is to nail the Polish language fluently and not only be OK with listening and reading. And to keep me from losing steam will be the wise words of Albert Einstein: “It’s not that I’m so smart … I stay with problems longer”.
Where To Learn Polish (Warsaw Insider, September 2011)
Tried and test strategies for raising your level of Polish.
So convoluted is the Polish grammar that it’s easy to believe that the founding fathers of the Polish tongue were cooking up as many twisted rules as possible in order to win the title of the most difficult language in the world. Unfortunately, these (competitive and sadistic) early speakers are already six feet under, so we can’t send the hit man after them. It’s not only the mind twisters. The pronunciation is another toughie as illustrated by smartasses challenging you to pull off tongue twisters, like “Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie” (I won’t even try write it out phonetically).
Yes, there’s plenty to gripe about. And it’s easy to throw in the towel, too. However, don’t be discouraged. There are many success stories from learners who took this Slavic language head-on. With a never-say-die attitude, within two years, some manage to operate in Polish in the work place, from conducting presentations to running training courses. That’s the good news. The flipside is, there’s no escaping putting in the time (applicable to mere mortals, not genius polyglots). Here are two roadmaps to getting a better grasp of what your neighbours are saying.
Back to Schools Why attend just one language school when you can go to more than one simultaneously? Obviously, time aside, money can thwart this grand scheme. Stephan (*not the real name) forked out a wad of hard cash for IKO, a private school specialising in teaching Polish to foreigners. With his spare change, he goes for additional classes at FROG (Foundation for Development “Beyond Borders”). Funding from sponsors enables FROG to charge a mere 300 zł for a three-month course (3 hours weekly). Linguae Mundi has FOC courses for non-EU passport holders. However, these freebies are sporadic; the courses are scheduled only if they are successful in securing EU funding.
Having attended IKO, FROG and LM, I can vouch for all three. IKO applies the “communicative approach” that gets you to do as much talking as possible. Everything is explained in Polish, by way of examples or with visual aids. And in just one course (2 months and a bit, 4.5 hours weekly), I went from zero to nailing the Tourist level confidently. FROG is more traditional in that the lessons are split between grammar work and chitchats. The former is great as revision, but the latter is pretty useless since everyone is jabbering on in broken Polish. LM gave me the solid grammar work that suits me. My classmates at IKO were mostly Western Europeans, while those at FROG largely hailed from the east, like Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. LM has expanded my network of friends to include nationalities from Cuba, Ecuador, India and Turkey.
Tandem Sessions When Andrea Klement, the former director of the Austrian Institute in Warsaw, said she was calling her tandem partner, I thought she was going rock climbing. After a while I caught on that it’s a language swap. Andrea had dialogues in German with Andrzej (*not the real name) for 45 minutes, and that’s followed by equal amount of time for Polish banter. At Language Exchange Ads-Warsaw, you can barter whatever you’re native speaker of for Polish lessons. Either leave your contact or get in touch with the locals keen to learn your first language. If a tipple or two doesn’t diminish your faculties for seven declension cases, then drink and talk at Tandem Evening in Warsaw on Mondays from 7pm at Obiekt Znaleziony.