Polish Language Blog

From Chopin to Szarlotka Posted by on Aug 1, 2008 in Culture

I’m always very surprised when I hear that people with absolutely no prior connection to Poland want to learn Polish. It’s one thing when someone has Polish roots, or a Polish name, or a polish spouse, or plans to move there. But it’s completely another when someone wants to learn Polish “just because.” Just because they think Polish is a beautiful language, or just because they love Chopin. And it really does happen!

It’s happened today, as a matter of fact. I got a phone call from my old friend in Japan. He’s not Polish, he’s very much Japanese. So he woke me up (hello! Forgot about the time difference!) and said:
An acquaintance at work wants to rearn Porish. Can you help her?

How dude? How? I’m a few thousands miles away!

“Oh no probrem. She aready takes a class in Tokyo, but needs more practice.” And then in a very uncharacteristically assertive for a Japanese way he added, “I gave her your contact info,” and hung up.

I rolled over and went back to sleep. And then I promptly woke up.

What? They have Polish classes in Tokyo? Since when??? People in Japan actually want to learn Polish? For what? Some things are just those great mysteries of life, and I guess this is one of them.

I decided to wait for Atsuko (the Japanese lady who I was going to have Polish conversation lessons with) and ask her what the deal was. I was really very curious, because it was exactly the fifth time this week, and since today’s Friday, it means that about once a day I heard that someone over in Asia was busy learning Polish. Seemingly for no particular reason at all.

When Atsuko did call, I flooded her with questions, in Japanese – just to be on the safe side. And here’s the scoop:

As always, it had all started with Chopin. As many Japanese, Atsuko had learned to play the piano and fell in love with Chopin’s music. A couple of years ago she traveled to Poland, toured the country and her love of the music morphed into the love of all things Polish, including szarlotka. She has been studying Polish for two years now, and finally was ready to test her language abilities with a real Pole, and that would be me.

I asked her if learning Polish was a popular hobby in Japan, because I surely never came across it during my days in the Land of Hello Kitty.

“Oh yes,” Atsuko assured me, “there are 30 people in my class.”

And then she very politely demanded a recipe for szarlotka that can be made in a Japanese kitchen using Japanese ingredients. And because I felt really bad admitting that szarlotka is not my strong point when it comes to baking (I’m more of a Vienna cheesecake – sernik wiedeński kinda gal), I told her I would do my best to find something suitable for her.
And this is what Atsuko had to say about Poland:

She even very deftly used almost all possible adjective-gender-noun-number combinations in the descriptions above. We will look at them up close and personal next time.

Now I’m off to dig for that szarlotka recipe for her.

Chopin monument photo: wikipedia

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  1. Maddie Heath:

    From Chopin to szarlotka.
    Anna, I thought you might like to know the reason why I am learning Polish in Shropshire, England. Living in Germany years ago I met a Polish couple (my mother’s age) who befriended me as a young married with a small baby. They became god-parents to my next born son. I have loved them all my adult life (they live in London now). Three month’s ago Zdich died and he was buried in Warsaw Cathedral with full military honours. He fought as a Captain in the Polish army at Monte Casino. They were both prisoners of the Russians at the outbreak of WW11 and suffered unbelievably in the Gulag before going to the Middle East to join the Polish army. I am so proud to have known them, and learning Polish (we have so many young Polish people here in England now) is a way of being even closer to them.
    Plus it helps to keep my 64 year old brain alive!!!
    Keep up your excellent work – I love your Blog! Maddie

  2. Anna:

    Hello Maddie!

    Your story is simply wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. It always amazes me how many wonderful, personal reasons people have for learning Polish. And yes, you’re right, there are many young Poles in the UK now. 😉

  3. David Piekarczyk:


    A reader of my blog gave me your blog address to look at because my wife and I are slowly learning Polish. We lived in the Chicago area but last year retired and moved to Poznań. Reason….my entire bloodline is Polish but I never knew about family in Poland until I was 56 years old. I discovered them all through research.

    We studied this last year at Mickiewicz University in their “Polish for Foreigners” The teacher insisted on teaching in Polish but when you don’t know a language and can’t understand 3/4 of what she is saying it is difficult to learn.

    I enjoy reading your explanations. How can I access everything you have written?

    “Spieszmy się kochać ludzi, tak szybko odchodzą”

  4. Grazyna:

    There sure are many young, beautiful AND clever Poles in the old Blighty…. 😉

  5. Kornelia:

    Hello everybody,

    I wonder if there are any Polish people close to Tokyo who would like to meet another Polish/German person. I (female, 27)was born in Poland (native Polish speaker) but grew up in Germany, at the moment working for a Japanese company in Tokyo area.

    I would love to meet some Polish people. German as well, of course.


  6. Anna:

    I’ll be in Tokyo in mid-January, I’ll send you an email once when I know when exactly I’ll be there, OK?

  7. juita:

    hi, i am a malaysian student studying in tokyo. i just came back from poland on a short trip and was wondering if i can meet polish people here in tokyo.

  8. PMK:

    Szarlotka is delicious!
    Here’s an easy recipe:

  9. Kwen-Yin:

    Też zacząłem się uczyć polskiego z powodu Chopina. xD
    Mieszkam na Tajwanie, w Azji. Nie byłem w Polsce, ale już uczę się 2 i pół roku! : D