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How to learn key phrases in Polish

To a native English speaker, Polish can appear a daunting language with consonant clusters and a complicated grammar. However, knowledge of a few essential phrases that are applicable to travel in any country will make a visit to Poland easier and more enjoyable. Polish is a phonetic language; it is pronounced as it is spelled. Once a visitor learns a few rules, the pronunciation becomes easier.

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  1. Learn greetings and related phrases. The term for “hello” during the day is “dzien dobry”. Pronounce the “dz” as the letter “j” in the name “Jim”, and the end letter “y” as the “i” in “big”, giving a sound like “jen dobri”. Say "dobry wieczor" for "good evening", pronounced "dobri vyechoor". A more formal way of saying hello is “witam”, with the “w” pronounced as a “v”. “Goodbye” in Polish is “do widzenia” , pronounced “do veejenya”. A more informal greeting is “czesc”, pronounced “cheshch”. “Do zobaczenia” is a less formal way of saying “goodbye”. It literally means “see you” and is pronounced “do zobachenya”.

  2. Learn “yes” and “no”. “Tak” in Polish means “yes” and is pronounced as it is written. “No” in Polish is “nie” and pronounced “nye”.

  3. Understand expressions of politeness. In common with other European languages, there are formal and informal ways of addressing someone. When asking anything of anyone, the polite way to address someone is through the third person. “Pan” means “sir, or Mr” while “Pani” is “Miss, Mrs, or Ms”. Both these words are pronounced as they are written. The familiar form of “you” is “ty”, pronounced “ti”.

  4. Learn further polite expressions. “Thank you” in Polish is “dziekuje” pronounced “jenkuye”. “Please” is “prosze”, pronounced “proshe” for a beginner in Polish. “Excuse me” is “przepraszam”, pronounced “psheprasham”. It can also mean “sorry”. This is a very important word as you are able both to apologise for something, and draw attention to yourself without being too intrusive.

  5. Say “gdzie jest…..” when asking for directions to any street or building. This means “where is” and is pronounced “gje yest”. When shopping, ask for the price by saying “ile to kosztuje”, pronounced “eele to koshtuye”.

  6. Learn to count to at least four. “Jeden”, “dwa”, “trzy”, “cztery”, means “one”, “two”, “three”, “four”. These words are pronounced “yeden”, “dva”, “chi”, “chteri” respectively.

  7. Learn to say that you do not understand the language and to ask if someone speaks English. “Nie rozumiem” means “I don’t understand” and is pronounced “nye rozumyem”. “Do you speak English” is “Czy Pan / Pani mowi po angielsku?”, pronounced "chi Pan / Pani movie po angyelskoo?”.

  8. Tip

    Use the formal style of address at all times unless your Polish interlocutor suggests that you address each other informally. The Polish language has numerous layers of etiquette depending on how close you are to someone. Older family members are often addressed through the third person using the relationship as a form of address. “Grandad” in Polish is “dziadek” , pronounced “jadek” ,and “auntie” is “ciocia” and pronounced “chochya”. Even long-term friends address each other in a combination of politeness and familiarity, calling each other, for example, “Pani Anio”, the equivalent of “Mrs Annie”, and pronounced “pani anyo”.

    Avoid the familiar form of “how are you”, or “jak sie masz”, pronounced “yak she mash”, that is ubiquitous in many Polish-English phrase books. It is very impolite when coming from a stranger.

    Address strangers in the familiar form, "ty", only on social media, blogs, and student bars.

    Remember all except two vowels in Polish are short. The exceptions are the hooked “a” and “e” vowels – the hook hangs on the bottom right hand corner of the vowel – that are pronounced in a nasalised manner. There is no extended pronunciation of unhooked vowels as for example in the southern English pronunciation of “bath” that sounds like “barth”.

    Don’t worry about the correct pronunciations of Polish joined consonants “sz”, ”rz”, and “cz”. These techniques can be learned slowly at a later time as you accustom yourself to the Polish language.

    Speak English immediately if in trouble.

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Things You'll Need

  • English – Polish phrase book
  • English-Polish, Polish-English pocket dictionary

About the Author

Based in London, Maria Kielmas worked in earthquake engineering and international petroleum exploration before entering journalism in 1986. She has written for the "Financial Times," "Barron's," "Christian Science Monitor," and "Rheinischer Merkur" as well as specialist publications on the energy and financial industries and the European, Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American regions. She has a Bachelor of Science in physics and geology from Manchester University and a Master of Science in marine geotechnics from the University of Wales School of Ocean Sciences.

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