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Lessons from My Language Learning Failures

I’m usually a pretty productive individual but I must say that I’ve been struggling with having things done in the last two months (because COVID). My workload is the same (touch wood) as before and if anything I have more time for doing cool things such as working on my Russian. And yet, I haven’t even done a Duolingo lesson in over a month.
I don’t think I have to tell anyone that life is tough at the moment, even for those fortunate enough to still have jobs. All I’ve been really doing is reading a lot and playing computer games, which are both coping mechanisms I’ve been using since childhood.
I think this is a perfect opportunity to speak about my language failures. I’m fluent in four languages but I could have been fluent in at least 7 had I been more consistent, motivated and productive. Why would I talk about these failures? Because there are lessons there to be learnt there, of course.

The Unheimlich German

German was not my language of choice. In the early 90’s German was THE language you learned as a second foreign language after English in Polish schools.
I was definitely not excited about learning it. I liked school but languages weren’t really my thing back then plus I didn’t find German particularly appealing. Also, my father’s wife at the time was a German philologist and she never failed to remind me how little of German I knew and how many mistakes I made. The school experience was full of grammar exercises, memorising vocabulary and little speaking practice. After 3 years of German and knowing only the bare essentials I was thrilled to move on to French traumatising my parents outraged at my decision of abandoning what I started. Their reaction was nothing else than sunk cost fallacy and I proved them wrong quickly.
Learning French in high school taught me I loved learning languages. After 2 years of learning with a group of beginners, I realised that by ACTUALLY learning what’s assigned you can get to an intermediate level in that time. While others still struggled with the basics, I decided to spend three weeks of my summer on a French course. When I got back to school I asked to be moved to a more advanced group of people who had 3 years of French ahead of me. The teachers didn’t love the idea and everyone expected me to fail. I was stressed, I was shy but I ended up being completely fine. I finished the year with a B in French and concluded it with the matric exam (A-levels equivalent) on both the basic (CEFR B1) and advanced (CEFR B2) level. I got 98% on B1 and 78% on B2.
What was different between my German and my French? In both cases we’re talking about 3 years. In high school I had 5 hours of French as opposed to 2 hours of German in middle school, but this doesn’t account for the difference. Most people who started with me as beginners in French spoke little French towards graduation, not more than I spoke German after middle school. Similarly, as much as there was no evil stepmother to discourage me from French, I had a number of teachers against me and the population of Paris during my course.
What really differed was: my motivation, my determination to succeed, my eagerness to show that the system is outdated and my genuine interest in French.

The Evasivo Spanish

If you google my name, you’ll find some bios of mine saying that I’m currently learning Spanish (to be fair you’ll find some saying that I’m learning Russian too, sighs). Spanish has been on my wishlist for years and years and I’ve had numerous attempts at learning it. I had two language partners during my studies I’d see regularly (it didn’t help with my Spanish that I made out with one of them and then he told me he wasn’t ready for a girlfriend!). I tried studying with books and with apps later but without much success.
In the meantime I became fluent in Italian by attending two intensive summer courses with two girlfriends and doing some annual courses in between. I took my first intensive summer course in Italian in summer 2008. In summer 2010 I took the B2 exam at my university and got a B+, leaving my examiners on the oral exam with their mouth agape.
What was the difference here? For Italian I had the structure and girlfriends to share my passion with (all hot Italian boys didn’t hurt either). For Spanish I had a liking for the language, for sure but no real structure. Also, by the time I was fluent in Italian between my French and Italian I understood a lot of Spanish which made me additionally lazy.

The Onoorkomelike Afrikaans

When I first came to South Africa, the social circle I ended up hanging out with was predominantly Afrikaans-speaking. That meant that whenever they got drunk (and we got drunk A LOT) they’d switch to Afrikaans, the language that I didn’t understand. I got an exchange partner I saw four times a week and within few months I was able to understand quite a bit of Afrikaans and have basic conversations. When the group and I drifted apart I just lacked the motivation to keep going and today I can only tell people that I speak Afrikaans a bit (n bietjie) or not at all (Ek praat nie Afrikaans nie!), depending on whether they look like someone I want to make the effort with or not.
What went wrong here? It’s complicated. There are millions of reasons why I’m no longer learning Afrikaans. One is that the people who speak it usually also speak English. The other that I feel that maybe a different South African language such as Zulu or Xhosa would be a better choice. Last but not least, my life wouldn’t really change in any positive way if I spoke it.

What about Russian?

I think it’s too early to count Russian among my language failures. The first time I tried to learn was two weeks in high school one summer with a book and CD recordings. Thanks to that experience, I can proudly say “Excuse me, does this train go to Minsk?” (Извините, пожалуйста. Этот поезд идет в Минск?) to this day!
The second time was a month before our trip to Azerbaijan in March 2019. I learnt to read Cyrillic and important survival expressions during a self-made crash course. The third time was three or four months ago when I decided to give it a try again and as you know I failed to build on my newly regained enthusiasm because COVID 19. And also, because I’m myself which means that I tend to have too many irons in the fire and apart from learning Russian I was trying to prepare to my C2 exam in Italian and make myself sound British.

Lessons From This TLDR Post

I’m certainly capable of learning languages and learning them fast too (and so are YOU and anyone who’s willing to put in the work) but the learning process requires the right circumstances to happen:

  • You need something you’re excited about that has to do with the language you’re learning, in other words, you need a strong WHY for choosing a given language in the first place
  • You need motivation and determination
  • You need structure, ideally not entirely self-imposed (get a motivated exchange partner or even better a language tutor or enroll on a course)
  • Strike while the iron is hot – maximise on your initial excitement with learning a new language and get as much done as you can then

Good luck on your language journey and good luck to me too!

Preparing Meals in Polish: Robić and Gotować

In my last post I’ve discussed the family tree of the verb robić. You can check it out to learn words from this verb’s family. Today, I’ll discuss the use of this verb for food preparation. What’s the difference between robić (“to do/to make”) and gotować (“to cook”)? You’ll find out today! (And I’m sure you’re as excited as when you’re about to find out who the wrongdoer in Scooby-Doo is).

Cultural Note

A lot of people will tell you that robić is used for not hot/uncooked meals and gotować for the ones that require warming up. This is true to vast but it won’t make much sense for a person who comes from a different culture.
Of course, the way Polish people eat has been changing to accommodate the modern workplace. Lots of Poles have breakfast, lunch and dinner like other Westerners. However, the language has been around for a while and when certain expressions were created they reflected reality.
Polish people less recently used to eat an uncooked breakfast śniadanie (often sandwiches), second breakfast drugie śniadanie (yet again, sandwiches, this time packed), obiad (a cooked meal around 4 o’clock), podwieczorek (an afternoon snack) and dinner kolacja (and yes, yet again, often sandwiches).
Obiad is very often translated to English as “lunch” but as you can see from the description above it doesn’t really carry the same idea.

Robić or gotować?

The main question is whether we “cook” (gotować) or “make/do” (robić) something. Robić can be used even if something is cooked but it doesn’t work the other way round. That’s why we would say:

  • robić śniadanie – “to make breakfast”

    Tata robi śniadanie dla dzieci. – “Dad is making breakfast for children.”
  • robić/gotować obiad – “to make/cook lunch (for lack of a better word)”

    Robię/Gotuję obiad, oddzwonię później. – “I’m making lunch, I’ll call you back later.”
  • robić kolację – “to make dinner”

    Co robisz na kolację? – “What are you making for dinner?”

Robić AND gotować

Just like in the example with obiad we can use both gotować and robić for some things. There will be a difference in meaning, though so choose wisely.

Robić pierogi means to form them out of pastry. You can also use the verb lepić (literally: “to glue”) here. The verb gotować should be used for pierogi, when you’re making them ready to eat by boiling them in hot water.

By the same token, we say robić makaron when describing the activity of cutting and shaping pasta and gotować makaron for cooking it.

Check Your Understanding

I hope that the difference between these two verbs is clear to you now. Just to make sure, do the test below. Remember to comment with your answers below so that I can tell you, whether you were right or not:

  1. Mama _____________ pizzę. (Mom is making pizza. Hint: forming the dough not baking it)
  2. Karol ____________ śniadania, a ja ___________ obiady. (Karol makes breakfasts and I make lunches.)
  3. ___________ pierogi już od godziny. (I’ve been making pierogi for an hour.)
  4. Zaczęłam ___________ pierogi, będa gotowe za 10 minut. (I’ve started to boil pierogi, they’ll be ready in 10 minutes.)
  5. Po polsku nie mówi się _________ kolację tylko ___________ kolację. (We don’t say cook dinner in Polish but make dinner).

A Family Tree: Verb Robić

I consider “family trees” a very effective method of learning vocabulary. A “family tree” are words related to one another. They look similar but are used in different ways. An example of a small family tree (should I say a shrub?) in English is: comfort (noun), discomfort (noun), to comfort (verb), comfortable (adjective) and uncomfortable (adjective).

Robić is a super important verb in Polish. This is why today, we’ll discuss the robić family tree.

Robić – Verb

Robić means “to do/to make” and is the most commonly used word in Polish to express this idea. It’s an imperfective verb, which means its focus is on the action and not on the completion of a given activity. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Robię zupę na kolację. – “I’m making a soup for dinner.”

Robisz swoją pracę domową? – “Are you doing your homework?”

Paweł nic nie robi całe dnie. – “Paweł does nothing all days.”

Zrobić – Verb

Zrobić also means “to do/to make” but it’s a perfective verb and its focus is on the completion of an action. We can’t use this verb in the present tense as it can merely refer to something we will complete or we’ve already completed. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Zrobię zupę na kolację. – “I’ll make a soup for dinner.”

Zrobisz swoją pracę domową? – “Will you do your homework?”

Paweł nic nie zrobi cały dzień. – “Paweł will do nothing all day.”

Wrobić – Verb

Wrobić kogoś means “to frame someone” or “put someone in a situation when they have to do something they don’t want to do” in Polish slang. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Jestem niewinny! Wrobili mnie! – “I’m innocent! They’ve framed me!”

Nie wrobisz mnie w to! – “You won’t put me in a situation when I’ll have to do it.”

Wrobiła mnie w organizację spotkania. – “She’s put me in a situation when I have to organize the meeting.”

Przerobić – Verb

Przerobić means “to turn something into something else”. It’s often used to speak about clothes. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Przerobiłam moje zasłony na sukienkę. – “I’ve turned my curtains into a dress.”

Przerobić can also refer to material studied at school or at university. In that case it translates as “to cover”.

Nie przerobiliśmy jeszcze tego zagadnienia. – “We haven’t covered this topic yet.”

Przerobić is a perfective verb. An imperfective form is przerabiać. Compare:

Przerabiamy salon na jadalnię. – “We’re turning the living room into a dining room.”

Przerobimy salon na jadalnię w przyszłym roku. – “We’ll turn the living room into a dining room.”

Zarabiać – Verb

Zarabiać means “to earn”:

Wiesz, ile on zarabia? – “Do you know how much he earns?”

Pracuje i pracuje, a zarabiam grosze! – “I work a lot but I still earn peanuts!”

Nie zarabiasz tyle, ile powinieneś. – “You don’t earn as much as you should.”

Zarobić is a perfective counterpart of zarabiać.

Kupię samochód jak na niego zarobię. – I’ll buy a car when I earn enough money.

W przyszłym miesiącu powinienem zarobić więcej. – I should earn more next month.

Zarobiłem na wszystko co mam. – I’ve earned everything I have.

Robota – Noun

Robota is a slang word for work or job. It’s used in many handy expressions such as:

Dobra robota! – “Good job!”

Robota nie zając, nie ucieknie. – A loose translation: “Work can wait.” Literally: “Work isn’t a hare, it won’t run away.”

Mam dużo roboty. – “I have a lot of work.”

Robot: Noun

Do you know what a false friend is? It’s when a word that looks the same or similar in two languages but differs in meaning. Fortunately, robot in Polish is your real friend (or a so-called cognate).

Rumba to robot sprzątający. – “Rumba is a cleaning robot.”

Myślisz, że roboty przejmą panowanie nad światem? – “Do you think that robots will take over the world?”

Robotnik: Noun

Robotnik is a word used for a physical worker. The female version of this word is robotnica and it can also refers to bee workers. There’s also a vulgar slang expression for a physical worker robol.

On jest świetnym robotnikiem! – “He’s a great (physical) worker!”

Robotnice pomagają królowej. – The female workers are helping the Queen.

Nie lubię słowa robol! – “I don’t like the word “robol”. “

Robienie: Noun

Robienie is a noun that translates to “doing” or “making”.

Robienie sobie żartów ze starszych ludzi, nie jest okej! – “Joking about the elderly isn’t okay.”

robić sobie żarty – “to joke”

Robienie własnego chleba nie jest łatwe. – “Making your own bread isn’t easy.”

Nic nie robienie jest super. – “Doing nothing is amazing!”

I hope this post has been useful. If you’re looking for a way to organize your vocabulary use AnkiApp or Quizlet (I have a BIG preference for the latter).

Check Your Understanding

Here’s a short test for you to check your understanding of the difference between these words:

1. Ten _____________ ciężko pracuje. (This worker works very hard.)

2. ____________ więcej niż na początku mojej kariery. (I earn more than in the beginning of my career.)

3. Zachowuje się jak ______________. (He’s behaving like a robot.)

4. Co ___________ ? (What are you doing?)

5. Co ____________ jeśli ona nie wróci? (What will you do, if she doesn’t come back?)

6. ___________ bigosu strasznie długo trwa. (Making bigos takes a very long time.)

7. Adam mówi, że go _____________ i ja mu wierzę. (Adam says he’s been framed and I believe him.

8. _______________ ten temat jutro. (We’ll cover this topic tomorrow.)

9. Ta _________ jest głupia, ale dobrze mi płacą. (This job is stupid but they pay me well.)

How did you do? Remember to comment to get your answers. Adieu!

To Know in Polish: Wiedzieć, Znać and Umieć

One English verb “to know” has three equivalents in the Polish language: wiedzieć, znać and umieć. It’s not surprising that many Polish learners struggle to understand the difference between them. Today, I’ll explain to you how to know when to use them.

Znać

The verb znać is used for general knowledge and knowing people. It’s followed by nouns or modifiers with nouns (pronouns, adjectives etc). It’s NEVER used with a subordinate clause. Here are some examples:

Znam Piotra. – “I know Piotr.”

Znać + noun

Znam rosyjski alfabet. – “I know the Russian alphabet.”

Znać + adjective + noun

Znasz jakieś dobre restauracje w Sieradzu? – “Do you know any good restaurants in Sieradz?”

Znać + pronoun + adjective + noun

On zna trzy języki obce. – “He knows three foreign languages.”

Znać + numeral + noun

Wiedzieć

Wiedzieć is a verb used for knowledge about something specific. It often introduces a subordinate (dependent) clause with words such as że (“that”), czy (“if”), kto (“who”), co (“what”) and similar:

Wiem, że masz rację. – “I know that you’re right.”

Nie wiem, czy pójdę na tę imprezę. – “I don’t know if I go to this party.”

Nic o tym nie wiem. – “I know nothing about it.” (about this particular issue)

Wiemy, gdzie on jest. – “We know where he is.”

Wiem, co masz na myśli. – “I know what you mean.”

Umieć

Umieć means “to be able to do or make something“. This verb is also used in the context of tests and exams. This verb is most often followed by another verb in the infinitive (unconjugated) form:

Nie umiem pływać. – “I don’t know how to swim.”

On zupełnie nie umie śpiewać! – “He can’t sing at all!”

Umiecie robić pierogi? – “Do you know how to make pierogi?”

Umiesz mówić po włosku? – “Can you speak Italian?”

Nic nie umiem. – “I don’t know anything.” (something often said before exams)

More Examples

Let’s have a look at some more examples comparing these verbs so that you can understand the difference better:

Znam Annę. – “I know Anna.”

Wiem, kto to jest Piotr. – “I know who Piotr is.”

Umiem rozpoznać Piotra. – “I know how to/I’m able to recognize Peter.”

Can you see the difference in use?

Znam dobrą książkę kucharską. – “I know a good cookbook. “

Wiem, który przepis wybrać. – “I know which recipe to choose.”

Umiem ugotować tę zupę. – “I know how to/I’m able to make this soup.”

And now?

Nie znam prawdy. – “I don’t know the truth.”

Nie wiem, czy to prawda. – “I don’t know whether it’s true.”

Nie umiem powiedzieć, czy to prawda. – “I’m unable to say whether it’s true.”

It should definitely be clear by now!

Summary

Here’s a quick summary that you can also use to refresh your knowledge at a later stage:

You should use znać to talk about general knowledge and knowing people. It follows the structure:

ZNAĆ + noun

ZNAĆ + modifier(s) + nouns

You should use wiedzieć when referring to knowledge about something specific. The most common structure is:

WIEM + a word introducing a subordinate clause

You should use umieć when talking about your ability to do or make something as well as knowledge you may have (or not) for exams. The most common pattern is:

UMIEĆ + verb

I’ve really done my best but let me know in the comments’ section, if you still have some doubts.

Check Your Understanding

Use the exercise below to check your understanding. The correct answers can be obtained by writing your own answers as a comment 😉

1. Martyna _________________ polski i angielski. (Martyna knows Polish and English.)

2. Wojtek _______________ mówić po niemiecku, angielsku i polsku. (Wojtek knows German, English and Polish.)

3. Nie _______________ jak ludzie uczą się więcej niż jednego języka obcego. (I don’t know how people learn more than one foreign language.)

4. ____________ jej brata. (I know her brother.)

5. Nie __________ co ci powiedzieć. (I don’t know what to tell you.)

6. Nie __________ nic na ten egzamin! (I don’t know anything for the exam.)

7. ___________ takie przypadki. (We know (of) such cases.)

8. Ma dopiero 5 lat, ale już ______________ czytać. (He’s only 5 years old, but he can already read.

9. ___________, że to nie jest łatwy wybór. (We know it’s not an easy choice to make.)

10. __________ tę piosenkę. (I know this song.)

I hope you’ve taken your Polish to a new level with this lesson! Now it’s time to say goodbye for now, Mein Schatz. поговорим позже!

The Difference Between Bardzo and Dużo in Polish

The difference between bardzo and dużo seems to be particularly difficult to understand for learners of Polish. In the first instalment of my new series Polskie poniedziałki (Polish Mondays) I’ll explain the main difference between these two words.

Bardzo and Dużo: Main Differences

The main difference between the two words is that bardzo translates as “very/really“, while dużo is closer in meaning to “a lot/many/much“.

This means that bardzo usually describes adjectives and adverbs:

To bardzo młody naukowiec. – “It’s a very young scientist.”

Jego samochód był bardzo tani. – “His car was very cheap”.

W tym sklepie jest bardzo drogo. – “This shop is very expensive.” (literally: It’s expensive in this shop.)

Dużo, on the other hand, is more often seen hanging out with verbs and nouns:

Mam dużo pieniędzy. – I have a lot of money.

Za dużo wydajesz! – “You spend too much!”

Moja żona dużo pracuje, czasem nawet w weekendy. – “My wife works a lot, sometimes even on weekends.”

Fringe Cases

Sometimes the general rules regarding which parts of speech these words go with simply don’t work. This is why it’s good to remember the second rule about them. Namely, dużo has to do with quantity and bardzo with intensity:

Bardzo kocham moje dzieci. – “I really love my children.”

Bardzo is used with a verb here but speaks about intensity of feelings.

Jesteś dużo wyższa ode mnie. – “You’re a lot taller than I am.”

With comparative adjectives such as wyższa (“taller”), we use dużo. Note that it’d still translate to English as a lot/much.

Sometimes we can also use both words together:

Ona bardzo dużo je. – “She really eats a lot.”

Dużo is an adverb so bardzo can be used as its intensifier. Compare the sentence above with the examples below:

Ona dużo je. – „She eats a lot.”

Ona je bardzo często. – “She eats very often.”

Bardzo and Dużo: Summary

Here’s a short summary for ease of reference:

Bardzo is used to talk about intensity. It’s usually used with adjectives and adverbs but sometimes it be used with verbs, particularly when describing intensity of feelings.

Dużo is used to talk about quantity with verbs, nouns and with comparative adjectives.

Check Your Understanding

Here’s a short exercises to check your understanding of the difference between bardzo and dużo:

1. Ona ________________ się uśmiecha. (She smiles a lot.)

2. ____________ cię lubię. (I really like you)

3. Maja ______________ czyta. (Maja reads a lot.)

4. _____________ zapłaciłeś? (Have you paid a lot?)

5. Twój chłopak jest _____________ miły. (Your boyfriend is very nice.)

I hope it’s been useful! Are you looking for answers? Oh no, Mein Liebchen! You’ll have to write your answers in the comments’ section and I’ll let you know whether you were right or not 🙂 So long! пока!

How to Use Instagram to Help you Learn a Language

I’m not a fan of social media. I deleted my Facebook over a year ago and it was one of the best decisions in my life in terms of saving time. I think anyone who uses social media knows how easy it is to scroll mindlessly through pictures of children and weddings of people one no longer care about. Here, here.
I do find a lot of value in terms of language learning on Instagram, though. Yes, I’m fluent in French and Italian but it doesn’t mean that I can just stop working on these languages. This is why my feed on magda_linga is full not only of Russian but also if Italian and French resources.

Who to Follow?

Instagram has a lot of good accounts with language learning content. There are three main types of accounts that you’ll see out there:

  • Studygrams – this is something I don’t understand at all and don’t find useful for language learning. Learners on studygrams post what they learn on a given day and what resources they use to do it.
    It’s often location specific as resources include books you can’t get everywhere and it’s difficult to learn anything from following those accounts. Occasionally, there are some study tips but this doesn’t seem to be the main point.
    In my opinion, it’s a great place for moaning and commiseration about the difficulty of a given language but in general talking about productivity and watching other people’s productivity makes you less and not more productive.
  • Polyglot accounts – polyglot accounts are useful not only for people who speak many languages. Yes, there’s a bit of nerd content there such as info about Polyglot Gathering 2020 and polyglot specific content but such accounts are also full of language learning tricks and tips. They rarely focus on a specific language, rather go to the “backend” of language learning providing you with super useful hacks on how NOT to spend 10 years learning a language in a language school and still don’t speak the language well.
  • Language specific accounts – language specific accounts are useful for learning vocabulary and some grammar. They do miracles for beginners but they’re also useful for intermediate and advanced students (even just as a refresher). Such accounts are created mostly by language learning enthusiasts, teachers and language schools.

How to Find the Right Accounts?

Search for language learning hashtags and see what comes up. Start with something simple like #learnrussian. You can review accounts that pop in your search and have a look at them. You’ll also see more related hashtags that you can use to continue with your search.
Add accounts that look good to you. Don’t always let the number of followers to sway you one way or another. People often go for what’s visually appealing and not for what will really help you increase your vocabulary.
Observe an account for a week and, if it’s not working for you get rid of it. Your feed shouldn’t have more than 10 accounts (ideally half of that!) for one language because you won’t be able to get value out of it. Remember to be ruthless and unfollow if that’s not what you’re looking for.

How to Use Such Accounts to Learn?

Polyglot accounts are full of language tips. Make notes and check in practice whether they work for you. It’s really the case of different strokes for different folks.
There are rules that are universally true like, for instance, you can’t learn the language without any effort. However, a lot of language learning has to do with your language goal and with your personal preferences.
True polyglots mostly know what they’re talking about so you can trust them to help you actually learn the language and not just spend money in the process.
Language specific accounts give you a lot of vocabulary, often used in a context and with pronunciation. Use them to build your vocabulary and engage with the people you follow to practise your language skills. Even simple replies to posts you write over time will help you a lot in expressing yourself in a language.
Last but not least, remember that Instagram is an additional tool and it won’t work as a principal tool for language learner. If you need to prepare a crash course for yourself, click on the link to get some tips.

Instagram, if used wisely, is a wonderful source of quality language learning content. Fill your feed with words and expressions of a language you’re learning and your time spent scrolling on Instagram won’t be wasted.
Stay tuned for language specific Instagram recommendations and let me know in the comments’ section what you use for language learning.

Polyglot Gathering 2020

Believe it or not I didn’t know that Polyglot Gatherings were a thing until someone told me about them yesterday. What’s more, the next Polyglot Gathering takes place very close to Warsaw were I hail from.

Unfortunately, I’ll miss this amazing event where polyglots from all over the word can share their experiences with language learning and passion for languages. I’m popping in for a quick visit to Poland in July 😦
If you can attend please do and take pictures! You can enjoy Polyglot Gathering 2020 between May, 26th and May, 30th in Teresin, 40 km from Warsaw.

Have you ever attended such an event? Let me know in the comments’ section!

Best Resources to Help You Learn Polish in 2020

Learning any language isn’t easy and every language has specific concepts that are difficult for language learners.
Thanks to my experience with articles about learning Polish and teaching Polish I’ve discovered a number of really useful resources. Here goes.

Cooljugator

Polish verbs undergo conjugation. This means that a verb has different forms depending on a person and gender. Have a look at the sample sentences with the verb jeść (to eat):

Jem obiad o pierwszej. – I eat lunch at 1 o’clock.

Zosia je obiad o pierwszej. – Zofia eats lunch at 1 o’clock.

Jemy obiad o pierwszej. – We eat lunch at 1 o’clock.

In Polish I have to use three different forms of the verb, while in English all persons in both numbers would have the same form. The only exception is the third person singular which gets an additional “s” (eat -> eats).

Cooljugator shows you all verb forms for different tenses. Due to numerous rules governing Polish conjugation it’s a great tool to increase your familiarity with the forms as well as a verification tool whenever you’re in doubt how to conjugate a verb.

Online Polish Dictionary

Online Polish dictionary gives you many things.
First of all you get noun declensions. Polish has cases which means that the form of the noun will differ depending on the context. For instance we say:

Widzę drzewo. – This is a tree.

Nie widzę drzewa. – I don’t see a tree.

Marek schował się za drzewem. – Marek hid behind a tree.

Yet again, the same word in English has many forms in Polish. The dictionary will provide you with the standard form in the nominative mianownik, even if you insert a word in a different case. You’ll also be able to see all noun forms.
When it comes to verbs you can see forms of a verb in all tenses, similarly like with the cooljugator. You’ll also learn what case follows a given verb. Last but not least, you’ll find out what aspect does a verb carry.
Wait…what’s an aspect? Brief, it’s what tells us whether a verb is ongoing or completed. In English an aspect is expressed with a tense, while in Polish there are different verbs called imperfective (czasowniki niedokonane) and perfective verbs (czasowniki dokonane). Have a look at the following examples:

Marysia ogladała telewizję, gdy zadzwonił telefon. – Marysia was watching TV, when the phone rang.

The verb used in the sentence above is the imperfective oglądać.

Marysia obejrzała ciekawy program w telewizji. – Marysia watched an (episode of an) interesting TV show.

The verb used is in the sentence above is the perfective obejrzeć.

As you can see, this dictionary is more thorough than Cooljugator but I find it less user-friendly.

Quizlet and Anki App

Quizlet and Anki App are both great for learning vocabulary. Quizlet has a number of advantages over Anki: there’s an interactive learning mode and different ways of studying, you get access to many study materials created by other students and teachers and you can choose which set you want to practise with.
Anki, on the other hand, certainly wins in terms of simplicity. You create your own study sets and the app tracks your learning progress.
Check them both out and see which one works better for you. They’re both really cool for learning on-the-go and I’m a massive fan of NOT wasting time. I use these apps whenever I’m queuing. A big plus is that they don’t make any sounds so you don’t have to fear embarrassment.
Polish is particularly rich in verbs because of the perfective and imperfective aspects I’ve mentioned above. Make sure to pay special attention to learning them.

Duolingo

Duolingo is amazing for beginners. You won’t learn a lot of grammar or understand the rules governing the language but you’ll definitely get a lot of basic vocabulary and phrases that will allow you have simple conversations in Polish. It’s also a fun and interactive app so it keeps you motivated.
Duolingo shouldn’t be your only resource for learning. If you want to see any progress with the language, you should get a language tutor or a partner to practise your speaking skills with. You should also either read about grammar concepts and do exercises online or get some structure with a language learning book.

Clozemaster

Full disclosure: I have written an article for Clozemaster’s blog. It doesn’t change the fact that I love the oldschool look of the app and I use it extensively for my Russian. The Polish course isn’t aimed at beginners as it will mostly speak Polish at you. You can start with Duolingo or a different app and then practise with Clozemaster once you’re more or less intermediate.
The big advantages of Clozemaster is that it makes you fill in sentences in a given language, improving your contextual understanding. You basically learn phrases and the way people speak in Polish without even noticing. Super useful for a language that has a lot of variables that change the way you should make a word look like in a sentence or a phrase.

E-polish.eu

E-polish.eu is probably the most comprehensive Polish learning resource out there. They have uploaded content of two books to an interactive platform with loads of different exercises to help you work on your Polish skills.
There are MANY exercises testing the same thing but it’s a good thing. No one learns a form of a verb by forming it correctly once so a variety of exercises on the same topic will really help you grow your vocabulary.
Yet again, you’ll need someone to practise your speaking skills with. I know I’m repeating myself but the worse kind of a language student is someone who thinks they can just learn a language in a vacuum. You can’t and you won’t so please start practising with someone who’s friendly and willing to help you before you deal with actual native speakers on the Polish streets. And I’m really not saying anything about Polish people here. Really.

That’s all for today, my fellow language enthusiasts. If you’re trying to brush up on your Polish for a weekend trip in Cracov, my post “How to prepare a crash course for yourself” will be more relevant.

How to Prepare a Crash Language Course for Yourself

Learning a language and becoming fluent in it is a long process. Sometimes you don’t have time for that or you simply don’t need to be fluent in a given language for your purposes. Is there a way to cover the basics in a short time? Of course! You’ll just have to prepare a crash language course for yourself.
All the apps and resources I mention in this post can be used for free. All you need is a bit of effort, some planning and motivation.

Get a Timeline

How much you can learn depends to a vast extent on how much time you have. 90 days is much easier to work with than 30 days but with enough commitment, you can become conversational in a month.
Once you know how much time you have, make an actual plan of action.
Try to be realistic about how much time you can spend learning. Half an hour daily is enough and you’re likely fail, if you promise yourself to do more than that. Life is busy and unless you have plenty of time on your hands it’s difficult to free up more of it for something that would be nice to do but what isn’t your priority.

Focus on What You Really Need

You have to be realistic how much you can achieve in a short time. If a language you’re learning uses the alphabet you already know, you’re winning.
Remember that for the purpose of basic communication skills, you don’t necessarily need to be able to write. I’d still recommend you use apps such as Duolingo or Clozemaster to learn words but don’t obsess too much about your spelling skills. As long as you can read simple signs and items on the menu, you’re going to be fine. Any forms you’d have to complete will likely be in English, anyway.
Now, it’s a bit more difficult if you don’t know the alphabet of a given language. In this case you should spend the first week simply learning how to read and practising writing words. Trust me, you’ll need it to get around.
One thing that you’ll need in both cases is learn a lot of vocabulary. Focus on learning as many words relating to what you need as you can. If the language has unpredictable plural forms, remember to memorise them along with singular forms.
You absolutely have to cover the following topics: food and drink, asking about directions, numbers, attractions, presenting yourself and having very small talk. You’ll be okay, if you cover that. Remember also to learn basic verbs in useful forms such as “Do you know where…?”, “Could you…?”, “I’d like to…” and similar. If there’s anything that’s important to your well being, for instance, you’re allergic to something or have food preferences such as vegetarianism, learn the whole phrase.

Ignore the Rest

Don’t try to read lengthy articles to remember vocabulary and don’t watch movies to learn either. If you have more time, you can try to surrounding yourself with the language more by doing these things but this isn’t what you need to learn during your crash course.
Your should focus on the basics. If you have 30 days to speak conversational [insert language] there is simply no time for everything. You may decide to continue your language journey later on but during your crash course, you should focus only on what you really need to survive, if it turns out no one speaks English or another language you already know.

Plan Your Practice

You should plan your week in advance (including finding the right resources, downloading apps) at least a day before the next weeks starts. A sample one week course plan, let’s call it Food and Restaurant week, would look like this:

  • Day 1: 10 minutes with Duolingo, 20 minutes of local dishes vocabulary practice list found online
  • Day 2: 30 minutes with fruit and vegetable vocabulary sets on Quizlet
  • Day 3: 30 minutes with “At the restaurant” lesson with Busuu
  • Day 4: 30 minutes of conversation practice with a tutor or a language exchange partner with focus on shopping for food
  • Day 5: 30 minutes with Busuu “Food and Drink” vocabulary
  • Day 6: 30 minutes of conversation practice with a tutor or a language exchange partner, focus on restaurant vocabulary
  • Day 7: Revision of the vocabulary learnt with AnkiApp

Of course, this is just a sample but what you definitely should have in your plan is: vocabulary, conversation practice with the use of a given vocabulary topic and listening.
Add all new vocabulary to AnkiApp and create separate sets for each vocabulary group to track your progress better. That way you have all the vocab always available to practise on-the-go. Learning is important but in order to truly remember what you’ve learnt, you also need to do revisions. A once a week revision is a must. You can also add some additional revision time with AnkiApp to your 30 minutes every day, when waiting in a queue…or on a toilet!
Conversation practice with a different person is non-negotiable. You can’t just learn the vocabulary and hope you’ll be able to use it in real life for the first time. You’ll get a stage fright and you’ll go blank. To be able to do something, you need to practise it. Remember to give instructions to your language tutor or exchange partner such as “Today I want to practise dialogues I’d have when shopping for groceries.”.
If your language tutor isn’t flexible and is insisting you follow their lead, change them. These people aren’t the right choice for you given your goal. You can learn more about finding a language tutor in my post How to find a good language tutor.

Get Over Yourself

Surprisingly, the most difficult thing to do when you prepare a course for yourself isn’t simply being systematic. Don’t get me wrong, some people will not manage to study as planned but these people are also unlikely to expect to manage to have a conversation in a foreign country. Actually doing the work is necessary to see results.
A much bigger issue is that people who actually do the work, often don’t manage to communicate. Why? Because their perfectionism and/or fear of embarrassment wins with their desire to communicate and put their skills to work. This is why you need to get over yourself.
You’re not going to speak the language perfectly after a crash course, you will make mistakes and you will sometimes sound funny. That’s okay! Your goal is to manage to order that coffee in a given language or to negotiate the price. It doesn’t matter how you do it. People will realise you’re a beginner so they won’t be too harsh about your mistakes. Many will also feel happy that you’re trying to learn their language (particularly true for less popular languages). Focus on your objective and ignore the rest. Good luck!

Do remember to comment, if you end up preparing a crash course for yourself 🙂

How to Find a Good Language Tutor?

Throughout the years of learning languages, I’ve realised that a good teacher can make a massive difference. Unfortunately, a decent tutor isn’t always easy to find. Read on to discover how to improve your chances of discovering a gem.

Think Outside of the Box

It’s surprising that so many people still rely on traditional tutoring where a teacher comes to you or you come to your teacher. Fair enough, if you have no access to technology but otherwise? Such a solution is a massive waste of time either for the person doing the commute. Why to do it when you can have an online teacher?
You can spend the time you’d otherwise spend on commuting on reviewing material, a session with Duolingo or on something completely unrelated to language learning.
I don’t think I have to convince anyone that more time is better, do I?

Why Is Online Teacher Better?

Online teaching has been growing over the years with people recognising that it saves you not only time but also money.
People charge less online for the following reasons:

  1. They live in a country where the cost of living is relatively low
  2. They’re new to a given platform or have little experience with teaching
  3. They’re bad at what they do

People who are bad at what they do often are desperate for money and will accept the lowest rates just to keep afloat. That’s how they win with their competitors. Don’t trust someone just because they provide a service. Check for yourself whether they’re any good.
People who simply don’t have much experience on a given platform or as teachers can be cheap. You can luck out with an inexperienced teacher but be careful with them. You may end up with someone who rides the wave of simply “being a native speaker” and has no idea how to teach or learn a language.
Your chances of getting a good teacher who doesn’t charge much are the highest if that person lives in a country with a low cost of living. However, even a more expensive teacher on an online platform often costs less than a teacher in your country.

Where to Find an Online Language Tutor?

Just google it. The only platform I could recommend as it’s the only platform I’ve used is Italki. I’ve been learning languages there and I’ve been doing some teaching too. It’s good but I can’t tell you that it’s the best choice as I haven’t used any other platforms. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t have to look any further speaks of its quality, though.
I’m also aware of the existence of Verbling, which could be quite good as the platform only hires native speakers with teaching experience. Now, I don’t necessarily think that native speakers are always the best teachers but that’s a topic for another post 😉

How Do I Know a Teacher Is Good?

I trust people more than I trust qualifications. If I see many positive reviews with people giving specific comments about how a teacher has helped them, I’m interested.
If I just see generic comments such as “A great teacher!” I’m more careful, even if someone graduated from Harvard. People often say nice things just after a lesson because they feel obliged to do so. Specific comments speak more of the teacher’s quality than about a student’s compliance to social norms.
A teacher should also let you speak. The golden rule of teaching is limiting the three T’s: teacher’s talking time. If a teacher talks at you or goes on about their private life, ditch them. You’re not their therapist.
Good teachers also give homework and suggest resources. They pay attention to your needs and focus on your mistakes as well as the ways to improve them. They should have something prepared for you for every lesson, be it a conversation topic or exercises.
Last but not least, they speak the language well, which isn’t to say they’re an online dictionary. Whether the teacher is a native speaker or not, they may take a while to find the right work for a given context.

Big No-Nos of the Search for the Right Teacher

There’s also a number of things you should not do when looking for a good teacher:

  • Focus solely on the price – if you’re looking for the cheapest teacher out there you may be missing out on great teachers based in locations more expensive to live in
  • Stick with the first teacher you find because you’re don’t feel like looking – if you find a teacher you like immediately, you’re lucky. Usually, to find the right teacher you’ll have to try a few out and that’s okay. (Almost) nothing worth having comes easy.
  • Stay with a teacher you no longer want to work with – some people make a great first impression but longterm they’re not the right match for you. You don’t owe your teacher anything, they’re a service provider and if you don’t like the service you should replace them

Finding a good language teacher isn’t simple but the world of online teaching has made it easier than ever. You have countless options. Use them and find someone good at their job spending less time and money than you’d on someone from your country of residence.
If you’re wondering whether you need a teacher at all, check out my previous post.