Languages are difficult. There are nuances that it seems only native speakers can learn. They seem to exist in every language and they are tremendously difficult to master. Of course, there are fundamental differences between every language. Some languages seem to lay fairly close to one another. For example, English has taken a lot of its structure and words from French. Due in large part to the Norman Invasion of the 11th century, and to other factors which are far too long to list here. Spanish is also similar to English, mainly because both languages have a lot of their roots in Latin. Yet, what about English and Polish? Are these languages similar? Today, we will talk about how an English-language minded American has struggled to learn Polish and the successes and failures he has had.
This English language minded American is me. What I mean when I say English language minded is that English is my first language. Meaning that when I think and when I try and orient myself to new things I do so from an English perspective. So, in my opinion is Polish similar to English? That is not a question that I can answer with a simple 'yes or no'. In some cases the two languages are deceptively similar. I say deceptively because sometimes Polish seems to have grabbed some English words, or rather English has adapted some Polish words (chicken or the egg argument, who knows really?) and this can be quite confusing. Confusing, there is a perfect example of what I mean. I remember once when I was in Polish class and I was trying to tell the teacher that I was confused and did not understand the concept. Now, I knew that sometimes English and Polish words are similar. For example, irritating in English is irytujący in Polish. So, knowing that sometimes English and Polish words are fairly similar I said to the teacher: 'Przepraszam pani profesor, ale jestem "skonfusowany" '. At this my teacher laughed and laughed. She told me that she know what I was trying to say, but that this word did not exist in Polish. So, in this sense trying to learn Polish from an English perspective gives you a lot of false friends.
Yet, on the other side of this argument Polish and English are in no way similar. Many are the times when I struggle with Polish letters and sounds. Ż, Z, and Z', are a perfect example. I was even more disappointed when I was told that although I could roll my r's, my rolled r's are still not the same as a native Polish speaker's r's because my tongue is in a different location. English can be difficult for Polish learners as well. The english letter combination of 'th' as in 'that is the thousandth tenth of the throne' can be quite difficult for Polish learners.
Mistakes come naturally in any situation you are trying to speak in a foreign language. Mistakes are a tricky business with learners of foreign languages, because you naturally want to point them out, but do it too much, and you discourage someone from ever trying to speak again because they start to think that there is no possible way for them to speak without making mistakes. Yet, on the other hand if you don't correct them from the beginning you are really only doing a detriment to their future selves because as their language improves they will then have to back-track and correct the mistakes that they had been making for a long time. So, it essentially breaks down into what you want to do with the language you are trying to learn. Are you trying to master it? Are you trying to learn enough to order a drink while on vacation? In my own Polish learning pursuit I am generally merciless to myself. I don't mind making mistakes, but I don't care to make the same mistake twice. This is why some people have described me as a real stickler on grammar. Polish grammar to me is like a puzzle of sort, or a kind of game. Each aspect of a language as a purpose or meaning, but the way each language communicates this differs. For example, in English we tend to use prepositions after our verb of movement 'go'. I can go into, go towards, go through, go around, go out, go in, go back, go forward, go sideways, go up, or even go down, amongst many other iterations and examples that I either don't know or have the time to tell here. Where as Polish as some variant of this as well, but it also uses prefixes with the verb. Pójść, dojść, wyjść, wejść, przejść, and many others which really I dont' know. Hence the game of figuring out a foreign language, you need to simply look for what the aspect of a language is trying to communicate. In the example above, each language is trying to tell us where we are going. English uses prepositions after the verb, and Polish uses prefixes attached to a verb. Either way the same meaning is expressed, but a different path is taken to reach this expression. Personally I find grammar to be frustratingly fascinating, boring, amazing, and sometimes superfluous all at the same time. Either way it is something that you cannot do without if you ever truly want to master a foreign language.
So, that is my take on learning Polish. It has been difficult and rewarding. God knows I still make mistakes. I don't mind making them because I can learn from them. I do try and not make the same mistake twice though. Do this enough times and you will find that you don't want to continue learning, and then you might just give up, and giving up is never a good option for learning a language.
Born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan David was raised by his parents with his two sisters and brother.