Is Polish language a hard one to learn?

Posted on 23. Mar, 2013 by in Culture, Education, Polish Language

Is it? I don’t think so…Although I’m aware that people everywhere say “Polish is the hardest language to learn”!

It is definitely not the easiest…I think that Polish is a beautiful and interesting language. I heard this from some of my friends – they say they love listening to me speaking Polish and it almost sounds like a music…Well, not music for everyone:) There are a lot of people who always wanted to learn Polish, but gave up after hearing from everyone that it is the hardest…!

What makes Polish so hard?

I’ve seen many reasons given, but almost all of them focus the number grammatical forms:

Nouns can have three genders (some linguists count five)

Each noun and adjective can appear in one of seven cases

Verbs conjugate for gender, person, mood and time (depending on how you count, this makes over 25 forms of every verb)

Verbs come in two aspects (English doesn’t have grammatical aspect)

If some aspect of the language is harder, than some other aspect is easier – or non-existent!

It’s true that there are lots of forms of each individual word in Polish. And it’s true that if you learn Polish, this will be a challenge for you. But many things that would be challenging in other languages AREN’T in Polish!

No articles

One of the most difficult pieces of grammar to learn in English, is when to use “the”, “a”, “an” or nothing at all. Unfortunately, for native speakers of English – when other languages also have articles, the rules for using them are frequently totally different!

In Polish, there are no articles! So, you don’t need to worry about them at all.

No word order

In English and many other languages, the order of the words in a sentence is very important to the meaning. “Jan loves Maria” means something different than “Maria loves Jan” and, of course, “loves Maria Jan” is gibberish.

When learning another language, you may encounter a word order different than that of your native language, providing you with an additional challenge.

In Polish, word order is mostly unimportant!

The following sentences all mean the same thing (“Jan loves Maria”):

Jan kocha Marię

Marię kocha Jan

kocha Jan Marię

Marię Jan kocha

You can simply speak as the words come to you and not worry about their order.

There are certain word orders that Poles would consider normal in a specific situation. But they are all understandable! This is used to great effect in music and poetry.

Few verb tenses

In English, we have very few verb forms (ie. the words don’t change much). For example, the verb “do” has only the following five forms: do, does, doing, did, done. But we have lots of verb tenses!

For example:

Present simple – I read everyday.

Present continuous – I am reading right now.

Present perfect – I have read this book before.

Present perfect continuous – I have been reading this book for two hours.

Future perfect continuous – At 5 o’clock I will have been reading this book for four hours.

Past simple – I read all day yesterday.

Past continuous – I was reading yesterday.

… and so on! In total, there are 16 tenses.

If you count tenses the same way in Polish, there are only 5! (Poles count them differently, they’d say there are 3 tenses and 2 aspects.) The following sentences: “I read”, “I am reading”, and “I have been reading” – would all be translated into Polish the same way: “czytam”.

So, forming the verb might be harder in Polish. But knowing when to use which tense, is actually a lot easier!

The alphabet is 95% phonetic!

In English, it can be difficult to know how to pronounce a word from it’s spelling. For example, compare the pronunciation of “oo” in the following words: book, soon, door, flood. It’s different in every word! And there’s no way to know that just from looking at them.

On the other hand, the Polish alphabet is almost entirely phonetic. Once you know the rules, you can look at any word and know how to pronounce it.

The opposite isn’t entirely true (hearing a word and knowing how to spell it) but it’s still a lot easier than in English!

Lots of vocabulary with Latin roots

Largely because of its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, the Latin language has a long history in Poland. Because of this, many words of Latin origin have seeped into the language.

If you speak a language that has borrowed lots of words of Latin origin (like English!), there will be some familiar vocabulary.

For example, many words ending in -cja are directly related to English words ending in -tion:

motywacja – motivation

sytuacja – situation

promocja – promotion

… and many more!

I think these reasons will give you a lot to think about learning Polish:)

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

About Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew up in Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business at the University of Warsaw. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with her Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they was born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.

15 Responses to “Is Polish language a hard one to learn?”

  1. Kuba 24 March 2013 at 2:40 am #

    It’s the endings that are the toughest. There is not a simple way to study the grammar. And when your at the intermediate level of speaking (with mistakes) you need a way to learn new words. I think living in Poland is the best way to learn. Even then it is not easy.

  2. Tony 24 March 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Polish is relatively tricky for English speakers to learn, and one point you missed is the lack of vocabulary which is similar to English. Romance and Germanic languages have a lot of words which can make you feel a bit more at home. I don’t think Polish can really compare here.

    Plus, the problems you mentioned far outweigh the positives you come up with ;)

  3. Be 24 March 2013 at 9:00 am #

    it maybe not hard… it IS difficult. But it gives pleasure when you are visiting Poland and you find out that every visit you are able to understand more and more words.
    It goes slowly….but forward. :-)
    greeting from Holland.

  4. Emily 24 March 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    My family wants me to learn some Polish,because of our Polish background,but i was never able to commit to it.Your article gave me some renewed hope!

  5. Marie Reimers 27 March 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    I’m well into my 60’s and have been working on learning Polish for the past two years. I find it very difficult – largely due to my age, I guess. However, I am sticking with it in spite of the challenge. For one thing, when I am in Poland people are happy when I attempt to speak their language. Also, when we entertain Polish guests here, they help me with the language. Also, I like your spirit of adventure, Kasia. We are kindred spirits in that way.

  6. kathy 1 April 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Somebody said yesterday: “Even its not easy it’s not impossible” same with polish language…

  7. Zbigniew 2 April 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    as with any language, you should start with learning curse words :)

  8. Andreas 5 April 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    Try Finnish with 10000 possible forms per word (http://www.ling.helsinki.fi/~fkarlsso/genkau2.html), 4 infinitives for verbs that all bend according to 16-18 grammar cases, vowel harmony, very few related languages so the vocabulary learning is from scratch.

    Of course everyone assumes one’s language is the hardest. But for an Estonian Finnish is easy, for a Czech Polish will be easier than for a German. At the end of the day, there is no such thing as language difficulty, there is only your personal stand and how different the language structure is from what you are already used to.

    A lot of people consider Chinese hard, even though it has basically the simplest grammar possible and so on.

  9. Jarek 5 April 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    I don’t think, that the word order is not important. The change of word order don’t change the meaning, but it can make the sentence clumsy and hard understandable.

  10. G 8 April 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Great blog!
    I’ve just found it!
    Well, as a Spanish living in Poland and trying to study and talk Polish I can say it’s very very hard! Due to the declensions It’s hard to talk properly: I have some vocabulary but I’m not able to put my words all together in a sentence!
    All Polish say: “I understand you but the ending is wrong….”

    Even my name have like 5 or 7 endings!

  11. Grzegorz 26 June 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Yeah, it’s all the time about the wrong ending of words. But you should try – people in Poland got used to that and will understand you :)

  12. Jedrzej 18 October 2013 at 6:13 am #

    G wrote: All Polish say: “I understand you but the ending is wrong”

    Interesting. I think the point of learning a language is to be able to convey information to another person. It sounds like you have already achieved this. Getting it perfect is a long ongoing process. People can be asses to, they will concentrate on the fact it is not perfect instead of the fact that you are speaking to them in their language and they can understand you.

  13. Diana Cobos 23 September 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    I guess it depends on your native language. It would be easier to learn for those who spoke languages that are conjugated, declined and aspected. But English is not one of those languages. While Polish vowels have one sound, consonant-vowel and consonant-consonant combinations have many different sounds so while a native English speaker can, with a little effort, can pronounce written Polish, Someone like me, who learned Polish words from my grandparents, absolutely cannot find a spoken Polish word in the the dictionary even tho I know how to say it, because of the difficulty with spelling. (English has the same problem as Polish. Spanish does not. It is extremely easy to pronounce) The lack of cognates between English and Polish makes vocabulary retention very difficult. I speak Spanish fluently, and so many words in Spanish share a common root with English that vocabulary aquisition goes at a gallop. It

    Polish is a beautiful language, and it’s part of my heritage. Polish was spoken by both my parents and grandparents, I’m fluent in both English and Spanish, and I’m trying to learn Polish but believe me – it’s not easy to learn.

  14. darmidge 24 September 2014 at 12:25 am #

    Noun and adjective endings are very difficult to learn. Verbs less so.

    And btw English does have aspect: perfective (with suffix -en or -ed) follows the verb ‘have’, and progressive (with suffix -ing) follows ‘be’.

  15. Diana Cobos 30 September 2014 at 4:22 am #

    I guess I’m thinking of aspect as I’ve experienced it in Spanish – preterite ( an action viewed as completed in the past) versus imperfect ( action done in the past with no reference as to whether it was completed or not) While we have past continuous ” was walking” and past habitual ” used to walk” in this sense, in order to use it correctly in Spanish is still difficult for me at times, I have to revert to memorized clues, particularly with the verb “to be” just because we generally don’t have to think in terms of flow of time in that same way in English.


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