This post was inspired by a great question on Twitter – but anyway, it was long overdue. I’ve been so focused on languages foreign to me (learning them and writing about them) that I forgot all about Polish! Let’s fix that today: here’s a quick guide to Polish learning resources.
0. Here’s Why You Should Add to This List
There’s lots of money to be made on teaching “big and important” languages. Chinese, English, Spanish – publishers are paying attention to those, schools are always ready to offer those courses. It is understood that some languages are more profitable than others – or more powerful than others. I wrote about this before, and once again, David Crystal’s analysis holds true.
Polish is not really in the same “big and important” league. Furthermore, it’s objectively quite a hard language to learn. So the resources don’t get a lot of attention or investment. Which means there are really few good ones.
Here’s where you come in. If you know a good Polish language learning website – or if you managed to learn Polish well with a tool you’ve discovered – let us all know. The comments section awaits!
1. Free stuff: Hacking Polish, Basics, and Secret Agents
I found a grammar/phrasebook/podcast mix to be helpful with my French learning challenge. So for starters, here are three dishes worth recommending:
– Memrise’s “Hacking Polish” is a handful of simple, but versatile phrases that you can use in many everyday situations. These often turn out to be building blocks for more complex utterances. Boosts confidence and goes down well.
– Some basic Polish learning podcasts have been around for a while. And even the more advanced ones can give you a right mix of control and semi-authentic pace and vocabulary range. Try these ones from PolishPod101 or RealPolish.
– Last but not least: the grammar. This is a big one for Polish, and unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, you should look for shortcuts rather than the big picture (as there’s a horde of fascinating exceptions to most rules, and Polish teachers / textbook writers LOVE pointing them out). Go with the military / field agent handbook. If it’s good enough for soldiers, it’s good enough for you.
2. Ambitious (but still free): newspapers, radio and film
Poland is quite a progressive and e-friendly nation, and a lot of what is done with media makes its way online sooner or later. This is great news for Polish language learners: you get to read, watch and listen – for free! Here’s a handful of sources. These don’t get translated or slowed down for learners by default, so they’re much more ambitious. You’ve been warned.
– Newspapers: Each will have its own political / social bias, which need not concern you. My personal rag of choice: gazeta.pl (or wyborcza.pl – paywalled, but with more stuff to read). The former is a full-on media portal, so expect some good video and radio clips every now and then.
– Radio: speaking of which, this is something Poles do quite well. You can listen to the Polish Radio (Polskie Radio) online, wherever you are. For a more “talking-heads” approach (hey, that’s how language gets learned, right?) head over to Tok.FM.
– Film: You’re going to love this one. Several Polish film companies have recently started releasing their best titles on YouTube – for free. And, more often than not, they’re subtitled. This is old stuff, but that’s actually a good thing: I can honestly say I’m proud of Polish film after re-watching some of those. Check out the film studios: KADR and TOR – enjoy!
3. Master Class: get a tutor
There’s a lot to be said about whether it’s a good or bad idea to hire tutors for English, French or Spanish. The “big languages” tend to be well-documented online, and simplified by global usage – so that self-taught routes are at least an option.
With Polish, this is a “good news – bad news” scenario.
The bad news is that Polish is tricky. Its case system makes it hard to computer-translate, and therefore – break down into learnable online chunks. It’s not as important as the “big languages,” so there’s not a lot of it in the media. All this makes for a very unforgiving terrain, if you’re a self-taught polyglot: you can spend more time trying to figure something out than Polish folks do when they use a little-known linguistic shortcut.
Which makes the tutor option quite reasonable. And this is the good news time.
Huge simplification to follow: Polish people travel widely, and learn foreign languages eagerly. They are also quite happy to teach others – or at least to serve as impromptu usage guides and language models.
Tutors are not hard to find – most language learning websites such as Italki or Livemocha should be good starting points. One bit of advice: approach them with a clear idea of what you want to happen – otherwise you may end up being taught lots of swear words and grammar for no particular reason!
Thanks for reading, everyone (and thanks for asking, Chris!) If you find any more useful resources, remember to get in touch below.
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