How to Learn Polish Cases

Bun膬! Polish cases are a nightmare for many students. First of all, you need to learn the gender of a given noun. Then seven (six, really!) cases with endings for pronouns, adjectives and nouns. And then when you speak decide which case to use in a given context and which endings does this mean. This isn’t easy and initially takes a lot of mental space.

You may think it’s easy for me to say but I’m learning Russian so we’re in the same boat, my vriende. In today’s post I’ll share my tips about learning cases from my experience of teaching Polish as well as learning Russian.

How It’s Often Done and Why It Doesn’t Work

From my experience with working with both Polish learning books and Russian learning books, the general rule is to spoon feed the student with cases. They cover thematic expressions along with the requirements of the A1 and A2 level. You learn how to introduce yourself, talk about food vegetables, your hobbies, family, telling the time etc.

This approach has its merits and I’m not saying you should throw your book in the bin. You need vocabulary and you can’t (or shouldn’t) study grammar in a vacuum. Still, the problem with this approach is that you learn a lot of expressions in different cases without knowing why a given case is used. This becomes very confusing quickly and even the most disinterested student starts asking “Why?”. To which a teacher with their hands tied has to answer “You’ll learn soon.” Often it takes months or year before you learn the answer.

What’s more, these books initially give you a case only for singular nouns leaving adjectives and/or plural for much later. What’s the point of knowing a case if you can’t express yourself in such natural way as by adding an adjective to a noun or making it plural? Well, there’s not much point because students try to speak and you can’t tell them to just keep avoiding things you haven’t covered yet. Because you can’t do it, students try to say what they want to say and they make mistakes. When they’re corrected it adds to their frustration whether it’s rational or not. When they’re not corrected they hear themselves making a mistake and are more likely to make it next time. Quite a pickle, huh? Well, this is why I’ve come up with a way of learning cases that helps you avoid such traps and frustrations.

Learning Polish Cases for Mastery

If you’re following a standard course, you’ll have to do some additional work. Course teachers follow the program full stop. It doesn’t necessarily make them useless but you can’t count on them to reach a decent level. I’ve said it earlier and I’ll say it again: traditional methods of learning and teaching languages don’t work. You get people who spend hours and hours on language study and they can’t even have a simply conversation after that. You need to take charge not to become one of them. Enough of the PEP talk!

To learn cases you should study ALL of them early on. No waiting nonsense that causes more harm than good. Of course, if you simply learn all cases together they’ll turn into a big mess in you head so that’s not good either. What you should do instead, is study them in a structured manner by learning:

1) What the case is used for

2) How it affects the noun in the singular

3) How it affects the noun in the plural

4) How it affects the adjective in the singular

5) How it affects the adjective in the plural

6) How nouns and adjectives work together in the singular and plural

7) How it affects any other parts of speech

The most important part with each of these points is drilling. Most books don’t provide you with anything close to enough exercises for each of the above. You often get two or three of them to practice how a given case is formed and used. You’re not a computer to remember the code after it’s been inserted into your brain. You need repetition, repetition and one more time repetition.

Cases are best studied in isolation, by trying to form simple sentences first with nouns only, then with nouns and adjectives, eventually with nouns, adjectives and other parts of speech. It’s really made a massive difference for me with Russian.
You could decide to spend a month studying one case. That’s really not that much work but in 6 months you’ll be done with all cases. This will do miracles to the way you speak as forming cases will become more automatic. If you still make many mistakes, you should review what you’ve done. Repeat until you’re right 80% of the time.
Sorry, if this sounds boring but it’s also factual. You should find exercises online for specific cases or practice with a private tutor, letting them know what you want to work with in advance so that they can prepare a lesson.
Here are some places where you can find good and free practice for Polish cases:

Ok, Mein Schatz. That’s it for today. I need to do some works that actually helps me pay my bills. La revedere!

Optimize Your Language Learning: When Time Matters More Than Money

When I was a student and I had a lot of time but not so much money, free language learning resources where what I relied on. Only occasionally, I’d spoil myself with a book (that I often wouldn’t use…).
The Internet is full of amazing free resources when you have time to look for them. Many free resources are as good as paid ones and I’m all for not wasting money! Having said that, sometimes paying for resources makes sense. It’s true when you don’t have that much time but money is less of an issue.

1. Pay Only For What’s Worth It

When I say that money is less of an issue, I don’t mind that you need to be a millionaire to pay for your language learning resources. It’s simply that throwing some cash that way may help you progress without spending much time looking for resources.
You should only pay for what’s worth paying for, though. Let me tell you what’s NOT worth it – organised group courses in language schools. You can get a private tutor in places such as Italki or Verbling for a fraction of the price and they’ll focus on your needs only. You can’t win with it, if your focus is truly on language learning (and not, for instance, finding new friends). I write more about this in my post “Do I need a language teacher?“.
Remember that the fact that an app needs to be paid for doesn’t make it good either. Read about a product you want to invest in, before buying it. Many apps have a nice freemium or free trials. This is my favourite way of paying for things – once I know what it’s all about. I’m in general catious with products that don’t give you a sample. If the product is good, what are they scared of?

2. Be Wary of Reviews

Just because someone on the Internet said that something is good it doesn’t mean that it’s good. We have this expression in Polish that in a non-literal translation means that someone gets excited over every sh*t (byle g贸wnem si臋 podnieca). I don’t think these people mean harm but they may just not know what they’re talking about.
Just look at the hype around Duolingo. It’s really not a bad product and it has its uses. What it won’t do, though, is teach you the language on its own. You can use it to complement your study but you can’t fully rely in it.
A design and user-friendliness are often things that people pay attention to. This is why you should read reviews from people who know something about language learning and/or teaching. You can find many reviews by teachers, language learners and polyglots. They’re the ones to be trusted.

3. Minimalism Rules – Don’t Buy Too Much

A new passion can result in you spending a lot of money on it. The more you spend, the more probable is that your money will go to waste. Seeing that you have disposable income (unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth) you’re probably at a stage in your life when you work quite a bit. In fact, the reason why you spend money on resources is because you want to save time.
This means you probably don’t have time to use every app/book under the Sun. You should be picky with what you buy and spend your time on.
What usually works for me is one book called something along the lines of Teach Yourself [Language or Learn [Language] which claims to be a complete guide for a given level or two. Sure, these books can differ in quality but between a book like this, a teacher, an a good app for vocabulary learning, you’re pretty much sorted. The only thing you may want to invest some time in looking for are additional resources for listening comprehension. If you still have time left, find a great language partner for additional practice.

4. Schedule Your Learning Commitments

Even with three tools you should plan your learning. It’s easy to get distracted and your motivation will vary. Insert your language learning commitments into your calendar and stick to it, whether you feel like it or not.
If that doesn’t work for you because your schedule varies a lot, at a minimum write down language goals such as: 1 lesson, 2 x 30 minutes with the book, 3 x 15 minutes with the app. Squeeze it in as convenient, just not all on a Sunday evening, asseblief.
I’d lie if I told you I’m good with sticking to a schedule but I can tell you then when I’m good at it I always see quick results.

5. Value Your Time

If a resource or a teacher isn’t working for you, change it. There are certain thing in language learning that work for everyone. For instance, being systematic. In general, though, we are all different and something that works for others may not work for you.
Whatever happens just don’t get discouraged from learning altogether. It may happen that you try many teachers before you find someone who you like. It’s much better to waste a bit of time early on in the search of what works then lose your mojo completely later on.
Tutors can be really bad. Even before my Russian language experiment, I encountered some pretty bad Russian teachers. This means I’ve had lessons with +/- 20 people before I settled on who’ll help me. The is true for for apps and books.
When frustrated breathe in and out. Remember that language learning is a long term game!

I hope this has been helpful for you guys. I will soon right something for those of you who have more time than money! Language learning can be customised to all needs 馃檪 Uvid铆me se! Kn煤s!

How To Talk About Your Language Skills in Polish

Someone could say that Polish is a language of too many choices but I prefer to think about it as a language with many options.
Talking about your language skills in Polish is no different and there are many ways to speak about it. All these ways, of course, have some grammar requirements.

How to Say I Speak in Polish

The first and the simplest structure is “I speak [language]”. We need a conjugated form of the verb m贸wi膰 (“to speak”) used as a part of the following structure:

M贸wi膰 + po + [language name + the ending -u]

Here are some examples:

M贸wi臋 po angielsku. – “I speak English.”

艢wietnie m贸wisz po w艂osku. – “You speak Italian very well.” (I know, btw, thanks!)

Mariola m贸wi okej po francusku. – “Mariola speaks passable French.”

W domu zawsze m贸wimy po niemiecku. – “We always speak German at home.”

This structure is best just learnt by heart without overthinking. To get the right form of the noun you basically get rid of the last letter of the standard noun form for the language and replace it with -u. All languages I can think of get the ending -u (szwedzki – szwedzku, arabski – arabsku etc.) apart from some more rare languages that never change form (for example, hindi, urdu or zulu). The preposition “po” is required in this case and it can’t be drop. It’s the way it is because it’s the way it is. Nie dr膮偶 tematu! (a slang Polish expression for “drop the subject”)

How to Say I Know in Polish

I’ve already written a post about the verb “to know” in Polish. Read it if you’re unsure what verbs Polish offers and how to use them.
For language skills we use only the verb zna膰. Fortunately the structure with this verb is also simple:

Zna膰 + [language name in the nominative case/mianownik]

Here are some examples:

Znam (j臋zyk) czeski. – “I know Czech.”

Jak dobrze znasz (j臋zyk) portugalski? – “How well do you know Portuguese?”

W tej chwili trzeba zna膰 (j臋zyk) angielski. – “One needs to know English at the moment.”

You can add the word “language” j臋zyk in front of the name of the language but you don’t have to. Most people don’t do it when they speak. It sounds overly formal, as if you were saying “I speak the English language” etc.

How to Say I’m Learning in Polish

To speak about language skills that are not yet ready to be described by the first two categories use a structure to say that you’re learning a language. In Polish you’d do it with the following structure:

Uczy膰 si臋 + [language in the genitive case / dope艂niacz]

Have a look at the examples below:

Ucz臋 si臋 (j臋zyka) rosyjskiego ju偶 dwa lata. – “I’ve been learning Russian for two years already.”

Ucz臋 si臋 (j臋zyka) angielskiego, ale ma艂o mog臋 powiedzie膰. – “I’m learning English but I can’t say much.”

Dlaczego uczysz si臋 (j臋zyka) chi艅skiego? – “Why are you learning Chinese?”

Just like with the previous structure you can opt for using the full expression “j臋zyk [name]”. In this structure it’s more common but still quite formal.

Check Your Understanding

Okay, so that’s it! I’m not saying there are no more ways to speak about your language skills in Poland but these basic ones will have you mostly covered. Here are some sentences for you to translate and check your understanding:

1. I speak Polish, German and French.

2. He doesn’t know Portuguese.

3. We’re learning Korean at school.

4. Jan speaks passable English.

5. I know English only, but I’m learning Spanish.

As always, I invite you to post your answers as comments to learn whether you’re right or not.
銇曘倛銇嗐仾銈! 啶溹げ啷嵿う啷 啶た啶侧い啷 啶灌啶傕イ!

How to Find a Great Language Partner

Language partnerships are on the rise thanks to the insane development of technology. Boy, has it’s changed the language learning landscape!
I remember really struggling to find people the first time round when I started with my Spanish (+/- 10 years ago). Now Spanish isn’t even my main language focus but I have short conversations in Spanish with people daily 馃榾
Language partnerships, both profound and superficial are an amazing tool to improve your language skills. Today I’ll share my insight about finding a great language partner.

Who’s a Great Language Partner?

Ha! It depends on your level. In the very beginning anyone will do. Having super simple conversations with as many people as you can is the way to go.
The more advanced your level, the more tricky it gets. A great language partner is someone you like to talk to… BUT if you enjoy the conversation too much you may be tempted to use another language to express yourself (usually English).
Here are some traits you should look out for in a conversation partner:

  • talkative – your conversation partner should have things to say and be easy to talk to
  • engaging – they should also encourage you to speak
  • focused – if their language goal is important to them, they will help you stay motivated
  • nice – yes, someone simply being a nice person makes exchanges much more fun
  • good in the target language – a native speaker means nothing. I’ve seen embarrassingly bad grammar and poor vocabulary from people who chuckle when they hear an accent. I’ve also seen amazing skills in people who’ve been studying for a relatively short time. A native speaker or not your language partner should have a decent level in the language they help you with.
  • NOT trying to get into your pants – probably more of a problem for female learners but a big problem nonetheless.

Having a language in common may speed the process up, particularly for beginner to intermediate levels. Even at higher levels it really helps with accuracy. Needles to say that the skills you both have in the language in common must be decent for it to be helpful.

Where to Find a Great Language Partner?

There are many places you can try to look for language partners. I’ve found language partners on Internations, Meet-Up and Couchsurfing. However, for the sake of simplicity you can go straight for places aimed at finding language partners:

  • Italki – You can advertise that you’re looking for a language partner or browse what’s been posted by others. It’s pretty cool that as a predominantly language teaching platform they allow and facilitate language partnerships.
  • Tandem – I haven’t been using this app for long but I’m already a big fan. There are countless users and you can chat to numerous people at the same time. You can have calls but you can also leave a message or a voice note and come back to the conversation whenever it suits you.
  • HelloTalk – It’s very much like Tandem but less user friendly and seems to have less people on it.

I’m sure there are some other great places and if you know them let me know in the comments’. More isn’t always better, though. If you just use the ones I’ve mentioned you’ll be covered for your language partner needs.

Have you tried out language partnership as a method of language learning yet? Let me know your thoughts 馃檪 Multumesc pentru citit! Do zobaczenia!

Polish Adjectives: Food Flavours 2

Last week we explored the world of Polish adjectives describing flavours and based on food names. For more info on basic adjectives related to food flavours click on the link. Today I’ll focus on something a bit more advanced: food items with more than one flavour.
Two-flavoured food items require the use of both adverbs and adjectives. Make sure you know the answer to the question: Is It a Polish Adjective or a Polish Adverb? before you go ahead with reading this blog post.

Double Trouble Flavours

You already know how to say vanilla (waniliowy) and chocolate (czekoladowy) in Polish. Now it’s time to learn what to do if the ice-cream you want combines both flavours.
The rule of thumb here is that we choose whatever sounds better when choosing which word should go first. In the case of vanilla-chocolate we would use vanilla first.
The first adjective changes into an adverb. It kind of makes sense because it describes the second adjective (which is what adverbs do!).

waniliowy (adjective) -> waniliowo (adverb)

Then you add a hyphen and the second adjective and get: waniliowo-czekoladowy. This is a masculine singular noun. Of course, it’ll undergo the usual changes:

ro偶ek (m) waniliowo-czekoladowy – “a vanilla and chocolate cone”

babka (f sing) waniliowo-czekoladowa – “a vanilla and chocolate babka

lody (pl) waniliowo-czekoladowe – “vanilla and chocolate ice-cream”

Note that the first part doesn’t change because adverbs always keep the same form. Some other examples of such food are:

smoothie truskawkowo-pomara艅czowy – “strawberry and orange smoothie”

ciasto kawowo-艣mietankowe – “coffee and cream cake”

nap贸j marchewkowo-brzoskwiniowy – “carrot and peach beverage”

The same formation rules apply to colors. For instance, you’d say:

Mia艂a na sobie czarno-czerwony sweter. – “She wore a black and red pullover.”

Check Your Understanding

I hope that this explanation has helped you and now you know how to form these adjectives. I can’t trust you, though! Here’s your test:

nut (orzech) and chocolate (czekolada) cookies (ciastka)

lemon (cytryna) and raspberry (malina) lemoniada (lemonade)

apple (jab艂ko) and mint (mi臋ta) juice (sok)

Let me know in the comment’s section what your answers are 馃檪 Grazie di aver letto il mio post! 鎴戜笌浣犵◢鍚庡啀瑙侊紒

Should I Study a Language at University?

Ahoj! Studying languages is pretty tempting for people interested in humanities. It also seems like a great way to become fluent in a language. However, considering the cost of studies and the time you need to complete a degree is getting a language degree a good return on investment? Here’s your chance to listen to someone who obtained a Master’s Degree in English Studies 9 years ago.

Consider Your Goals

Would you like to work as an interpreter or a translator? If yes, I would say that getting a language degree or studying applied linguistics is a good idea. You can become a professional in this industry without having a degree but getting one opens many doors for you. Studying languages helps you to connect with people who are interested in working in the industry as well as with those looking to hire. This can prove invaluable.
If you’re after money (and who isn’t?) go for rare languages. Graduates of sinology can demand way higher rates than those with a degree in French or English.

Would you like to work as a teacher? If yes then unless you’re set on working in schools, there’s no need to get a degree. There are many qualifications, among them prestigious ones such as CELTA and DELTA, that allow you to become a teacher. Such diplomas and certificates are available for many languages. They usually cost a fraction of the price of a degree and are much less time consuming. With a certificate in hand you can join the labour market and start getting valuable experience that will allow you to charge more faster.

Would you like to work as… you have no idea what it is that you want to do? Well, getting a language degree will certainly boost your language skills. Still, this can be done in many other cheaper and faster ways.
In general, during your studies you’ll dive into literature, history or linguistics. Does this sound fascinating or do you feel lukewarm about it? Keep in mind that very few people make it into academia. There are also few direct work opportunities other than translating or teaching.
Sure, having any degree may mean slightly higher earnings. In some cases it gives you better chances of getting hired and promoted. However, the market is oversaturated with graduates of humanities. Like it or don’t, but you may end up landing a job way below your education level. Soft skills are simply not particularly valued.

Would you like to move to a country where the language is spoken? PLEASE DON’T SPEND 3-6 YEARS GETTING A LANGUAGE DEGREE. Unless it’s from Oxford, Cambridge or an Ivy League university, of course. Yet again, like it or not but employers (almost) always prefer native speakers for language jobs (writing, editing, proofreading and similar). They’re also prejudiced against degrees from countries were a given language isn’t spoken.

Manage Your Expectations

Another important thing with studying languages are your expectations. First of all, the level you’ll reach after completing your degree differs depending on a language. In many countries popular languages have a minimum entry language level (often B1 or B2). With less popular languages it’s often assumed you speak no language initially. This limits where you can get in 3-6 years.
Language studies are very good at teaching you academic language skills and good grammar. Pronunciation courses are often a part of the curriculum. Your accent will therefore be often better than that of a typical speaker from your country. You’ll also read complex and difficult texts and listen to challenging recordings. If you wanted to study in another country or pass language exams, you’d be very well prepared to do so.
Unfortunately, language studies have their limitations. There are many lectures and not so many opportunities for you to speak. When you do get an opportunity to speak you often have to conquer the fear of both 1) speaking in front of the group and 2) doing so in a foreign language. What you speak about when you do speak is highbrow stuff. It’s great in that context but in real life you’ll sound funny.
You also learn A LOT of vocabulary but upon graduation you don’t know that you need tickets for the 8PM show in the cinema or that an alternative to a bottled beer is a draft. And this is after you’ve written your thesis in that language!
What does this mean in practice? That people after language studies are often not actually fluent, particularly in the spoken language. You can’t rely fully on your studies to learn real life language.
It also means that people who graduate often deal with an impostor syndrome. Their degree sets the expectations of others very high. In reality, they may not be confident at all in a language. Speaking in a workplace is another cup of tea that discussing Derrida.

Before You Go

Look, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t study English literature, if you love it. I did! I have a roof over my head and I’ve had some sort of job most of my professional life. To be fair these jobs were partially due to the fact that I’m fluent in three other languages but I digress… The point is, you’ll make it one way or another, if you’re stubborn and hard-working.
Having said that, don’t go into languages if it’s just something to study. There are simply better things to study that will give you more professional opportunities (how about marketing or project management?). If you want to learn a language there are other ways to do so. That’s also true for language teaching.
If you do decide to study a language, make sure that you know what you’re doing it for. Ok, that’s it for today!
Buena suerte! Vi ses!

Polish Adjectives: Food Flavours

Polish has a so-called AN structure which means that in general the adjective goes in front of the noun. Polish adjectives for food flavours don’t follow this rule, though. If you still struggle to tell what’s a Polish adjective and what’s an adverb, check out my post “Is It a Polish Adjective or Adverb?
Today you’ll learn where to place flavour related adjectives and, perhaps more importantly how to form them. It’s a very important language skill and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Food…is everything!

Food Flavours: Adjectives Formation

First, you need to know some food names. This isn’t too difficult as all Polish learning books drill food with cases ad nauseam (do wyrzygania!). But enough about that, let’s have a look at some examples:

czekolada – noun: chocolate -> czekoladowy – adjective: chocolaty

truskawka – noun: strawberry -> truskawkowy – adjective: strawberry flavoured or made from strawberries

marchewka – noun: carrot -> marchewkowy – adjective: carrot flavoured or made from carrots

As you see, in general you have to take away the last vowel and we add the ending –owy. In that manner you get a masculine adjective that you can change into an adjective of a different gender. For instance, czekoladowa would be the right for of “chocolaty” for feminine singular nouns (czekoladowa kawa – chocolaty coffee) and czekoladowe for non-masculine plural nouns (czekoladowe lody – chocolate ice-cream).

You may wonder what happens with nouns that don’t end with a vowel. Good question! Here are some examples:

ananas (pineapple) -> ananasowy (pineapple flavoured or made from pineapples)

pomidor (tomato) -> pomidorowy (tomato flavoured or made from tomatoes)

jab艂ko (apple) -> jab艂kowy (apple flavoured or made from apples)

As you can see, the ones that end with a consonant simply get the ending –owy. The ones that finish with an –o (so neuter nouns), effectively get the ending –wy.

Food Flavours: Exceptions

Of course, where there are rules, there are also exceptions. Here’s the list of notable food related adjectives that don’t like to play by the rules:

  • kapusta (cabbage) – kapu艣ciany
  • ziemniak (potato) – ziemniaczany
  • og贸rek (cucumber) – og贸rkowy
  • mi臋so (meat) – mi臋sny
  • burak (beetroot) – buraczany
  • kukurydza (corn) – kukurydziany
  • kiwi (kiwi) – o smaku kiwi (kiwi flavoured) and z kiwi (with/from kiwi)
  • awokado (avocado) – o smaku awokado (avocado flavoured) and z awokado (with/from avocado)

Food Flavours: Placement

Food flavours are placed after the noun, which makes them different to most Polish adjectives. In some very rare cases you could insert such adjective before the noun for emphasis but you’d have to have a very good reason to do so. In general we say:

ciasto marchewkowe – carrot cake

lody truskawkowe – strawberry ice-cream

sok pomara艅czowy – orange juice

This rule applies to adjectives that come from food related nouns. This doesn’t mean that other adjectives describing nouns behave in the same way.

Check Your Understanding

You think you get it? I hope so! Just to be sure here are two simple exercises to check it:

1. Create adjectives from the following food related nouns: malina (raspberry), kokos (coconut) and winogrono (grape).

2. Describe the following nouns with the created adjectives: lizak (lollipop), nap贸j (beverage) and polewa (sauce or icing).

Here’s an example with the words banan (banana) and ciasto (cake):

bananowy (adjective)

ciasto bananowe (banana cake)

You can write your answers in the comments’ section and I’ll let you know whether they’re correct! Det 盲r allt f枚r idag 馃檪 Nitakuona karibuni!

Language Exams: To Take or Not to Take

I could write a book about what I think about language exams because it’s so complicated 馃榾 However, I’ll spare you that and just summarise my points as concisely as I can in this blog post.
Language exams definitely require a lot of preparation and they often not cheap. Like any exams they’re also stressful. This means that it’s good to have a reason to take them. Here are some of the motivations.

You Have to Pass an Exam

This is the most common motivation for taking language exams. Maybe you’re considering moving countries or studying abroad, maybe your boss told you you need to do it. If that’s the case keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure that you know where and when to take it. Also, register in advance and ideally pass it way before your deadline to allow additional time for a retake.
  • Prepare for this specific exam
  • Make sure you know what score you need and plan your study accordingly

Remember that you have to be realistic about your timeline. People can learn a language very fast but you should know your limitations. If you’re short on time, invest in an intensive course or ideally both that and a private tutor.

You Want to Have Some Proof of Your Language Skills

This one is more tricky because then you have more options when it comes to choosing exams. Consider your needs carefully and make sure that you take an exam that will suit you. Any official exam will do for general professional purposes. If you would like to have more options for the future, however, you may want to choose a specific exam. For instance, with English exams the US may have a strong preference for IELTS but European countries often accept other official language exams too.
Honestly, I haven’t seen a difference in how potential employers and clients treat me since I passed French language exams. Many companies still have internal language tests. There’s a good reason for that too! I’ve heard of a number of situations when someone exaggerated their languages skills and was unable to perform their job.
It doesn’t have to be wilful misleading: sometimes people pass language exams but completely abandon the language after them. Two years of no language exposure can really get you from hero to almost zero. Many places prefer exams taken in the last two years, some exams also have an expiration date.
If you want to make sure that an exam can really help you Google is your friend. You can also contact student advisors of local language schools and ask them for help.

You Want Some Motivation to Keep Learning the Language

With your main motivation for the exam being, well, motivation, taking a language exam is a great tool. By preparing to an exam you have to practise your active and passive skills on a variety of topics. Your vocabulary will grow and you’ll definitely see a lot of improvement in your spoken and written language skills. You’ll also learn a lot about the country’s culture and history, while working with old exam papers.
The best thing you can do for your motivation is to commit to an exam date. In other words, don’t be me! I’ve been postponing my C2 Italian language exam for over a year now. In my defence it’s mostly, because the local Dante Institute refuses to organise it for one person only and flying to another city here costs and arm and a leg.

Should You Take a Language Exam?

If you have to do it – yes! If there’s a chance it’ll improve your career prospects – yes! If it help you to motivate yourself to keep learning – yes!
So when not to take such exams? Well, language exams are academically oriented. This means that to pass them you need to learn how to write in for official and non-official purposes. At higher levels you have to write essays and give speeches.
If you’re only having fun with the language or speaking it is enough for your needs, preparing for such formal exams may suck the fun out of it.
What’s more, it’s questionable how much such exams really prove. As I mentioned before, many companies will still give you some kind of test to check your skills. This often means that your performance will be tested during job specific tasks.
Sure, it’s great that you have your German exam but can you communicate with a Germn speaking client? This is what your employer wants to know. In other words, an exam can be helpful to get your foot in the door but don’t count on it being a free pass to get jobs requiring language skills.

I hope that you’ve found your answer to the question: “Should I pass a language exam?” in this blog post. If you have any questions, the comments’ section is there for you 馃檪 脌 bient么t mes amis ! Udanego weekendu!

5 Best Polish Proverbs and Sayings

When I say the best, of course, I mean according to me 馃檪 Some of these proverbs could be classified as idiomatic expressions, but it all depends on the source. Here goes:

1. Nie m贸j cyrk, nie moje ma艂py

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” or the Polish monkey proverb is actually a saying I didn’t know until my British friend told me about it. In translation it’s pretty popular among English speakers and it has become one of my favorite Polish proverbs.
What does it mean? It’s an end-of-discussion kind of commentary, letting other people know that something isn’t your problem.

2. Z piasku bicza nie ukr臋cisz

I’m actually being a bit disingenuous here, I like the saying that translate to English to “you can’t make a whip out of sand” but it’s not actually my favorite one… I much prefer the slightly more vulgar version of it: Z g贸wna bicza nie ukr臋cisz (“You can’t make a whip out of sh*t”).
If you consider the meaning of this saying, it’s a close English equivalent “You can’t make something out of nothing.”. True that!

3. Na bezrybiu i rak ryba

When there’s no fish, crayfish becomes fish“, this brilliant proverb teaches us that sometimes we have to accept much less than our expectations suggest we should accept. Now, as you can see we’re just not very excited about crayfish in Poland.
I think it’s an amazing saying because it shows how are circumstances may change our perception of things. Sometimes simply anything will do and has to do because “beggars can’t be choosers“.

4. O jednym oku, byle tego roku

This saying roughly translates to “He/she may have one eye as long as I meet him/her this year.”. It’s a comment on desperation of some people to get into a relationship, regardless of the qualities of the new partner. I’m sure you know people whose worst fear is being single even for a moment.

5. Nie ucz ojca dzieci robi膰

The last saying on my last of personal favourites is “Don’t teach the father how to make children.”. In a simple and straightforward manner, just like we like it in Eastern Europe, it reminds you not to lecture people who know more about a given topic than you do.

A sweet and short post today! Have you enjoyed reading it? Which saying/proverb is your favourite one? Share your thoughts in the comments’ section, asseblief. A presto!

Language Experiment: 12 Days of Russian Lessons

I heard about the Polyglot Gathering 2020 from a student of mine before the pandemic was a thing. Sigh. The silver-lining is that the gathering moved online and therefore I was able to attend it. I’m still going to comment on some speeches but I’m waiting for the organizers to upload them on their channel so that you guys can also access them.
Okay, so to get to the point, which is something I always have a problem doing (you see!) in preparation to this gathering I decided to give my Russian a quick boost. As you can learn from the post Lessons on My language Failures I’m up and down with my language learning. This means that in a year and a half of “learning” Russian I perhaps did two months of study with months on end of not doing ANYTHING with it.
Nonetheless, the gathering was there on the horizon with its language practice opportunities and I knew that “袠蟹胁懈薪懈褌械 锌芯卸邪谢褍泄褋褌邪, 谐写械 薪邪褏芯写懈褌褋褟 斜邪薪泻芯屑邪褌?” (Excuse me, do you know where the nearest ATM is?) was not the best conversation starter. I decided to try an experiment and do a lesson of Russian every day for the remaining 12 days. I used professional and community tutors on italki and only stayed with a teacher, if I liked them. Below are some of my findings.

1. Some Teachers Are Great, Some Are Hopeless

Instant enlightenment. I guess it’s something that I learnt a long time ago but somehow forgot about it because I was lucky with teachers for a long time. Community tutors or professional teachers alike can be great or totally not.
During my experiment I had lessons where teachers expected ME to lead the lesson. This means there were uncomfortable silences and prolonged pauses. Sure, anyone can be in a situation when they need to gather their thoughts but if your teacher makes you feel it’s your job to lead the lesson, they suck.
I enjoyed the following mixture of teacher’s characteristic:

  • Nice

    I’m not kidding, just a nice person who smiles from time to time makes it much easier for you to learn. When they don’t make you feel judged and encourage you it’s really important for your progress. We all know we sound silly in the beginning when learning a new language so someone who can put us at ease is gold.
    And yes, unfortunately not all teachers think it’s important. I literally had a teacher roll her eyes at me when I was struggling with telling the time in Russian. NOT cool!
  • Prepared

    If a teacher comes for the lesson unprepared it’s a bad sign. Even if you’re just doing informal conversation practice and they have no questions/activities prepared for when the conversation dies out this means they’re not prepared.
  • Good at explaining the language

    This is one thing at which non-native speaking teachers are often much better than native ones. It’s simply because they’ve been through the process. Teaching courses are theory and somehow they don’t really really understand certain problems of learners.
    Having said that, I find native teachers fluent in at least one foreign language with a lot of experience really good at it too.

2. Progress Sometimes Comes Later

This is something I heard Lydia Machova saying during her speech at the gathering and I can totally relate to. For the most part of my twelve day experiment I couldn’t see much progress. Sure, I could introduce myself much better after doing it 9 times (I’ve tried 9 different teachers) but other than that I didn’t feel like my Russian was getting any better. This was obviously very frustrating. I started doubting myself.
Weirdly, the progress came only a week or two after the conference, when my Russian was downgraded to two lessons a week, homework and some vocabulary learning. One day out of the blue I was able to use vocabulary and structures learnt during the experiment. I guess the take home message here is that you just have to be persistent and the results will come.

3. You Need That Homework and You Need It to Be Good

You’ll spend so much more money on your lessons, if you don’t work on your own. Still, not all homework is equal. It was drilling what I’d covered during lessons that really helped me not some random exercises.
Don’t move on to anything else before you feel more or less at ease with a new topic, otherwise you’ll be repeating your mistakes and they will fossilize. Ask your teacher to slow down. That’s what 1-on-1 teaching is made for and that’s why it’s much more efficient than group work.
You can also create you own homework by expanding to weaknesses that came up during lessons. I’m, for one, a bit cavalier with Russian cases because my native language has given me quite a good intuition about them. The intuition can only get me so far, though. I can’t get away without drills for the cases that I find counterintuitive and these are really difficult to work on.

4. Personality Differences Can Hinder Your Progress

I mentioned a number of things when it comes to teachers in point 1 but this one needs a separate paragraph. As much as someone can be a good teacher there are certain issues that may hinder your progress, namely, major personality differences. If you’re supposed to be getting frustrated with your teacher or your conversations won’t flow because you’re very different, rather change them.
During the experiment I would decide whether to stay with a teacher or nor after one lesson. This doesn’t mean 7 teachers I rejected were bad teachers but it means that their teaching style and/or personality and/or beliefs would not make us a good match longterm.
For instance, for many people it’s surprising that I’m Polish and I live in South Africa. Add to that that I moved here for work (as a woman!!!) and you may get into certain conversations you don’t want to be having.
I understand genuine interest. “How come did you end up in South Africa?” and similar are just good conversation starters. However, I can’t deal with what I’d call interrogation driven by someone’s lack of appreciation for all kinds of diversity. I’m not interested in explaining my life choices to people who are there to teach me a language.
This experiment did cause me a bit of fuming but actually, more sadness about how some people see the world. Still, I ended it walking away with two great Russian teachers whom I gladly share with you: Anastasia and Marina.

5. Your Attitude Is Crucial

Did I manage to have a lesson every day for 12 days? Sure! This doesn’t mean that these lessons were equally effective, though and I was to blame too. Particularly on the weekend I really had to push myself to even attend a lesson and my attitude was just wanting to be done with it. A great teacher can help you with motivation but when you’re very tired or low the learning process is much less effective.
When not participating in an experiment book a lesson for when you know you can concentrate on what’s being discussed. Don’t add a lesson to a day that you know will be long and frustrating.

7. There’s Something About Kickstarting

When you struggle with language learning motivation it’s a good idea to kickstart your progress by making an intense effort like I did in my experiment. The thing is, life’s busy and language learning can be slow when you just put two hours a week into it. A crash course is a great idea to start with and whenever you feel like you’re getting nowhere you can just do a challange similar to the one I just did.
My 12-day Russian marathon has certainly improved my vocabulary and knowledge of important phrases A LOT. I advanced from using Polish words and hoping for the best to actually knowing basic Russian words, phrases and structures beyond my survival travel vocabulary. More importantly, my motivation to learn Russian has been high ever since I completed the experiment.

PEP Talk

Learning a language is a commitment and sometimes it may feel like a chore but whatever your goal is you’ll feel amazing, if you achieve it. You’re reading this blog so you’re probably a person who values their time and money and wants quick and sustainable results.
To do better in a language you must learn better. To learn better (= smarter rather than more) you need motivation. You can spend years and years in language courses and schools putting your progress in someone else’s hands or really commit and become intermediate or higher in a year. These are completely achievable goals with the right tools.
I know it, because I did it before and I’m trying to crack the code of how one can do it over and over again. This is because I also know that trying to optimize your language learning process means going against years if not centuries of old school and ineffective language teaching. If you don’t fight for yourself you’ll loose your motivation, money and perhaps even the interest in learning a given language. We can do it!
Bonne chance 脿 vous et a moi ! 脌 bient么t !