How to Learn Polish Cases

Bună! 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!

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 mówić (“to speak”) used as a part of the following structure:

Mówić + po + [language name + the ending -u]

Here are some examples:

Mówię po angielsku. – “I speak English.”

Świetnie mówisz po włosku. – “You speak Italian very well.” (I know, btw, thanks!)

Mariola mówi okej po francusku. – “Mariola speaks passable French.”

W domu zawsze mówimy 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 drąż 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 znać. Fortunately the structure with this verb is also simple:

Znać + [language name in the nominative case/mianownik]

Here are some examples:

Znam (język) czeski. – “I know Czech.”

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

W tej chwili trzeba znać (język) angielski. – “One needs to know English at the moment.”

You can add the word “language” język 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:

Uczyć się + [language in the genitive case / dopełniacz]

Have a look at the examples below:

Uczę się (języka) rosyjskiego już dwa lata. – “I’ve been learning Russian for two years already.”

Uczę się (języka) angielskiego, ale mało mogę powiedzieć. – “I’m learning English but I can’t say much.”

Dlaczego uczysz się (języka) chińskiego? – “Why are you learning Chinese?”

Just like with the previous structure you can opt for using the full expression “język [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.
さようなら! जल्दी मिलते हैं।!

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:

rożek (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-pomarańczowy – “strawberry and orange smoothie”

ciasto kawowo-śmietankowe – “coffee and cream cake”

napój marchewkowo-brzoskwiniowy – “carrot and peach beverage”

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

Miała 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 (jabłko) and mint (mięta) juice (sok)


Let me know in the comment’s section what your answers are 🙂 Grazie di aver letto il mio post! 我与你稍后再见!

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)

jabłko (apple) -> jabłkowy (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) – kapuściany
  • ziemniak (potato) – ziemniaczany
  • ogórek (cucumber) – ogórkowy
  • mięso (meat) – mięsny
  • 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 pomarańczowy – 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), napój (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 är allt för idag 🙂 Nitakuona karibuni!

The Difference Between “Podobać Się” and “Lubić”

The first time someone asked me about the difference between “podobać się” and “lubić” I understood the curse of a native speaker teacher. Now, this was new to me because before I started teaching Polish, I taught languages I learnt myself, which made it much easier for me to explain certain concepts to others.
Unfortunately, telling someone that things should be used in a certain way because “they feel right to you” is about as useful as parents telling their children “because I said so”. Meaning: it’s not useful at all. Fortunately, I pondered this question and now I have a better answer.

Podobać Się

The idea behind podobać się is that you find that something appeals to you in some way. Here are some examples of where we’d use podobać się:

1. Podoba mi się ten mężczyzna. – “I like this man.” (I find this man appealing/attractive).

2. Podoba mi się to, co mówisz. – “I like what you’re saying.” (I find what you’re saying appealing)

3. Podoba mi się ten dom. – “I like this house.” (I find this house appealing.)

We often have a specific feature in our head, when we use this verb. For instance, in sentence number 1 the person means the man’s looks, in sentence number two content of what’s being said and in number 3 yet again the look of the house. You could also specify what exactly you like with this verb:

4. Podoba mi się głos tego mężczyzny. – “I like this man’s voice.”

5. Podoba mi się przekaz tego, co mówisz. – “I like the message of what you’re saying.”

6. Podoba mi się kolor tego domu. – “I like the color of this house.”

Lubić

Lubić is much more strongly associated with people’s feelings about something.

1. Lubię Marka. – “I like Marek.”

If you say a sentence like this it just means that you have friendly feelings about someone.

2. Nie lubię biegać. – “I don’t like running.”

3. Lubię zwierzęta. – “I like animals.”

Only lubić can be used with verbs! When you speak about our general likes it’s a more obvious choice:

4. Lubię gotować/śpiewać/czytać. – “I like cooking/singing/ reading.”

You’d also use lubić for food preferences:

5. Lubię polskie jedzenie. – “I like Polish food.”

6. Bardzo lubię sushi. – “I really like sushi.”

Battle of Verbs: Podobać Się vs Lubić

Sometimes seeing the two verbs put together is the best way to understand the difference between them:

1. Lubię Anię, ale mi się nie podoba. – “I like Ania but I don’t fancy her.”

2. Tomek lubi zwierzęta, dlatego nie podoba mu się przemysł zwierzęcy. – “Tomek likes animals, which is why he disapproves of animal husbandry.

3. Zazwyczaj nie lubię spódnic, ale ta mi się podoba. – “I don’t usually like skirts, but I like this one.”

4. Czy ci się to podoba czy nie, ja lubię tatuaże. – “Whether you like it or not, I like tattoos.”

5. Lubię biegać, ale ta trasa zupełnie mi się nie podoba. – “I like running but this trail is not my cup of tea.”

Last but not least, if used with a noun podobać się is followed by the nominative case, while lubić by the accusative case.

“To jest…” Structure in Polish

Ask learners of Polish what’s the worst thing about the language and they’ll tell you it’s the Polish cases. That’s the reason why it’s nice to have some tricks up your sleeve. One of them is the use of the To jest… (“This is…”) structure that requires the nominative case mianownik, instead of the locative case narzędnik usually required by the verb być (“to be”).

Co to jest? – What is it?

This construction can be used in many situations such as:

  • Presenting people

    To (jest) moja żona. – “This is my wife.”
  • Expressing feelings

    To (jest) okropne! – “It’s horrible!”

    To (jest) naprawdę ekstra! – “It’s really cool!”
  • Indicating things

    To (jest) komputer. – “This is a computer.”

What’s So Cool About It?

The cool thing about this construction is that it requires the nominative case, which means the standard form you get in a dictionary. Compare the two sentences below:

1. To (jest) wysoki mężczyzna. – “This is a tall man.”

Nominative!

2. On jest wysokim mężczyzną. – “He’s a tall man.”

Locative 😦

Note that if there’s no noun to describe the adjective remains in the nominative:

3. On jest wysoki. – “He’s tall.”

These two sentences as well as similar one that you could create are interchangeable in most contexts.

Don’t Get Confused

The verb być “to be” triggers the need for the locative case. However, “jest” is only optional in sentences in the “to jest” structure. It may be easier for you to imagine it’s not there or simply omit it in the beginning. That’s why I put it in brackets in the sentences above. Yet again, it’s also totally acceptable to drop the verb and say:

4. To wysoki mężczyzna. – “This (is) a tall man.”

Nevertheless, “to jest” requires a noun. You can’t use it with an adjective only. No need to get greedy with omissions:

5. To (jest) wysoki [add a noun]. – “This is a tall [you see, you do need that noun]”

Let’s have one more example to make it even more clear:

1. To (jest) niska kobieta. – “This is a short woman.”

To jest + nominative. No funny business.

2. Ona jest niską kobietą. – “She’s a short woman.”

A typical sentence when the verb “to be” (być) triggers the locative case, narzędnik.

3. Ona jest niska. – “She’s short.”

No noun, the adjective stays in nominative.

4. To niska kobieta. – “This (is) a short woman.”

Just a reminder that you can omit the “jest”.

5. To (jest) niska [add a noun]. – “This is a short [again, you really do need that noun]”

No noun, no sentence with this structure, sorry.

Your Turn! – Tocca a Te!

Rather than give you an exercise, today I invite you to try to make your own sentences in the comments section. Questions and doubts welcome too. Cheerio!

Is it a Polish Adjective or a Polish Adverb? Przysłówki and przymiotniki.

One of the areas that cause problems to students is the distinction between adjectives and adverbs in Polish. Occasionally, Polish adverbs align with English adverbs in meaning but it’s not always the case. Hopefully, this article will help you with whatever doubts you may have with the topic.

Polish Adjectives

Polish adjectives undergo declension, which means that they change their form depending on the gender of the noun they describe and the case required. That’s why we say:

To jest inteligentna kobieta.

but

Nie widzę inteligentnego mężczyzny.

You can learn more about Polish adjectives here (and if you can’t click on it, it means I haven’t written this post yet ;)).
The most important things for you to remember today is that adjectives describe nouns and undergo declension.

Polish Adverbs

Good news, folks! Polish adverbs, unlike adjectives, always keep the same form. They describe verbs and often finish with an -o (eg. wolno – “slow”) or and -(i)e (eg pięknie – beautifully). Such adverbs are usually formed from the singular masculine form of an adjective (in the case of examples provided: wolny and piękny).
There are also some irregular adverbs that are easier recognized by their meaning and role. Good examples of such adverbs are wczoraj (“yesterday”), wtedy (“then”) and tam (“there”).

Polish Adjectives vs Polish Adverbs

How to tell the difference between a Polish adjective and a Polish adverb? Sometimes it’s quite easy:

Paweł jest kreatywny. – “Paweł is creative.”

Who is creative? Paweł. It’s pretty clear here that the adjective kreatywny describes the proper noun Paweł.

Paweł myśli kreatywnie. – “Paweł thinks creatively.”

We can’t ask a question about Paweł in this sentence, but we can ask about Paweł‘s thinking. How does Paweł think? Creatively. Here we’re dealing with an adverb kreatywnie describing a verb.

Many cases are straightforward. Verbs are described by adverbs, while nouns by adjectives. The end of the article… NOT.

Things Get Tricky

Unfortunately, Polish sometimes requires an adverb, when English would use an adjective. Here’s a number of more challenging examples:

Jest zimno. – “It’s cold.”

When you speak about the weather or outside conditions you often should use adverbs in Polish. Note that this isn’t an exception, even if the choice of adverb here may not sound natural to you. You could ask a following question:

How is it (outside)? It’s cold!

The “it” here, present in English and implied in Polish is a dummy subject. There’s no “it”, to really speak about (no person nor object) and if you look at the Polish sentence it literally translates into “Is (=Jest) cold (=zimno)“. What’s the conclusion? The adverb still describes a verb. Compare it with the sentence below:

Dziś jest piękna pogoda. – “The weather today is beautiful.”

In this sentence, we describe the noun “weather” (pogoda), hence the use of an adjective beautiful (piękna).

Another good example is when you talk about how someone looks like. In Polish you would say: Ania wygląda młodo. (“Ania looks young.”) using an adverb. Yet again, the adverb describes the verb here. Namely, the way she looks like.

You’d also use adverbs to speak about how you feel:

Czuję się świetnie! – “I feel great.”

Źle się czuję! – “I don’t feel well.”

Last but not least, here are some examples that are predictable based on both the rule provided and your intuition of an English speaker once you think about them:

Poproszę duże/małe piwo. – “A large/small beer, please.”

Piję dużo/mało piwa. – “I drink a lot of/little beer.”

Summary

Adjectives describe nouns. Adverbs describe verbs. If in doubt, form questions to see which part of the sentence a given word should describe. For some more help with a related problem area, have a look at one of my posts to help you see the difference between two adverbs, bardzo (very) and dużo (a lot).
Remember, practice makes perfect or as close to perfect as you can reasonably expect to get!

Check Your Understanding

Here’s a short exercise for you to check whether you understand the difference between adverbs and adjectives in Polish. Change the form of the provided adjective as required, either into an adverb or an adjective in the appropriate form:

1. On jeździ ______________ . (szybki). – “He drives fast.”

2. Jesteśmy _________ . (miły). – “We are nice.”

3. Czytam _________ (duży) i ______________ (szybki). – “I read a lot and (I read) fast.”

4. ___________ (miły) mi cię poznać! – “It’s nice to meet you.”

5. Ten pies jest _________ (stary), ale wygląda __________ (młody). – “This dog is old but it looks young.”

6. _________ (piękny) śpiewa! – “(He/She) sings beautifully.”

7. Ten film nie jest __________ (dobry), ____________ (zły) się go ogląda. – “This movie isn’t good, it’s not easy to watch (literally: it watches badly.).”

8. Ufff, ale ____________ (gorący)! – “Ufff, it’s so hot!”

9. Anna jest ___________ (dorosły), ale zachowuje się ____________ (dziecinny). – “Anna is an adult but she behaves like a child.”

10. Zwykle nie piję ___________ (duży), ale zamówię kolejne _____________ (duży) piwo. – “I usually don’t drink a lot, but I’ll order one more large beer.

Would you like to know how you’ve done? Give me your answers in the comments section and I’ll tell you 🙂 Totsiens!

Forgetting Things in Polish: How to Use the Verb Zapomnieć


The funny thing about being a native speaker is that you don’t realise certain things can cause difficulties, until you hear foreigners struggling with them. I experiencex such an epiphany when I heard some of my students repetitively misusing the word “to forget” zapomnieć. This probably has to do with the fact that you can do different things with this verb in different languages (for instance, “forgetting your phone at home” is acceptable in some but not others). Anyway… here’s what I have to say about it.

Zapominać czy zapomnieć?

First of all, we have two verbs in Polish to express the idea of forgetting: zapominać and zapomnieć. They differ in aspect, which is one of the things to watch out for when learning Polish. Brief, zapominać is used for repetitive or unfinished actions. It can be used in all tenses. Zapomnieć, on the other hand, is used to speak about the completion of actions. It doesn’t have a form in the present tense. Here are some examples for zapominać:

Ciągle zapominam telefonu! – “I always forget my phone.”

On zawsze zapomina o moich urodzinach. – He’s always forgetting about my bday.”

Kiedyś niczego nie zapominałam, ale teraz mam słabszą pamięć. – “Back in the days I didn’t forget anything but now I have a weaker memory.”

And for zapomnieć:

Cholera! Zapomniałam portfela! – “Shit! I’ve forgotten my wallet.”

Helena nie może o nim zapomnieć. – “Helena can’t forget him.”

Zapomnij o tym! – “Forget about it.”

Allowed Structures for Zapomnieć


There’s a number of structures allowed for the verb zapomnieć:

  • zapomnieć, że – “to forget that”

    Zapomniałam, że dziś mam pilates – “I forgot that I had Pilates today.”

  • zapomnieć + gdzie, czy, jak itp. – “to forget where, whether, how etc”

    Zapomniałam, czy dziś mam pilates. – “I forgot whether I had Pilates today.”

  • zapomnieć o – “to forget about”

    Zapomniałam o pilatesie. – “I forgot about my Pilates.”

  • zapomnieć + czasownik w bezokoliczniku – “to forget + infinitive”

    Zapomniałam pójść na pilates. – “I forgot to go to Pilates.”

Useful Phrases with Zapomnieć

There’s also a bunch of useful phrases and idiomatic expressions with zapomnieć:

  • zapomnieć na śmierć – to forget “for death”, meaning entirely (Polish people aren’t usually dramatic but here you go)

    Na śmierć o tym zapomniałam! – “I’ve completely forgotten about it.”
  • kompletnie zapomnieć – to forget entirely

    Kompletnie o tym zapomniałam! – “I’ve completely forgotten about it.” (I know. Two ways of saying something are better than one)
  • zapomnieć języka w gębie – to lose one’s tongue

    No co? Zapomniałeś języka w gębie? – “What’s wrong? Have you lost your tongue?”
  • zapomnieć o całym świecie – to forget about the whole world

    Przy nim zapominam o całym świecie! – “Around him I forget about the whole world.”

Hope this has been somewhat helpful. Any suggestions? Doubts? The comments’ section is waiting for you!
Btw the Polyglot Gathering is happening online this year so I can attend it after all (yay!). You can still get your tickets, if you’re keen. Hurry up, though it starts this Friday! There’ll be speeches by polyglots, crash courses and language tandems. I’m excited and I hope to see you there!

What to Watch Out For When Learning Polish

A lot of people say that Polish is a difficult language to learn. Honestly, I don’t think its matters whether it’s true or not. The reason why you’re learning the language in the first place is because it’s somehow important to you to know it (unless you’re a polyglot and language enthusiast and then whether it’s difficult or not is even more irrelevant because surely you’re just up for a challenge).
The point is that whether it’s because of family reasons or because of career prospects, you want to know it. And yet, your perception of it as being difficult only serves as a deterrent from actually putting the work in. What you do instead of repeating to yourself that what you’re trying to do is difficult (when has that ever helped anyone?) is focus on potentially challenging areas to hack the learning process.

The Dreadful Cases

If there are no cases in your native language you may find the idea weird. This is true for any concept you encounter in a new language or in life in general so just try to be open-minded. Believe it or not, there are some things in your language that someone learning it finds equally weird.
What are grammatical cases and why do they cause so much trouble to students? In brief, cases give nouns, adjectives and pronouns, different forms according to the context. This means that we say Jem kolację (“I’m eating dinner”) in Polish but Nie zrobiłam kolacji (“I haven’t made dinner”) and Poczekaj z kolacją (“Wait with dinner.”).
There are 7 cases in Polish (actually 6 that you really have to worry about). Each of them has different endings. What’s more different parts of speech often have different endings. It’s a bit of a nightmare to wrap one’s head around them initially but you can really overcome difficulties with time and these tricks:

  • Don’t learn all cases together. Learn them one by one and practise a lot with written and oral exercises. Create easy phrases and sentences working with grammar tables.
  • Try to understand what each case is used for, apart from just memorising rules
  • But DO memorise the rules, not only endings for different parts of speech but also which prepositions and verbs require a given case

The Hardcore Pronunciation

Polish pronunciation is a bit hardcore for speakers of many languages. There are many sounds that are somewhat difficult to pronounce as well as clusters of consonants. My short Polish teaching experience tells me that Hungarian, Arabic and Italian students seem to struggle with the pronunciation the least.
The thing about pronunciation is that if you have certain sounds in your language, they’re not a problem. If you don’t, then you have to work on teaching yourself to produce such sounds. Your mouth will go to whatever it thinks is closest in your native language to whatever it is that you’re trying to pronounce. This is why “accents” are somewhat predictable and why people have ideas about how, for instance, a German speaker or a French speaker pronounces certain things in English.
How to learn Polish pronunciation then, seeing that many languages don’t have many of the Polish sounds? By practising the sounds as well as repeating phrases and sentences. Over and over again. You can also try recording yourself, if you can stand the sound of your own voice. Alternatively, pay someone to listen to you during lessons.

The Awkward Aspect

Grammatical aspect isn’t a specifically Polish feature but aspect coding in Polish is different to what you see in English. To show the focus on completion of and action as opposed to the “doing of it“, Polish has produced verbs. The perfective aspect is the one that focuses on completion. The imperfective, on the other hand, on performing.
Almost all verbs in Polish have their counterparts in the other aspect and some of them have more than one. A good example a simple pair are two verbs for “to buy”: kupować (imperfective) and kupić (perfective). Have a look at the difference between them:

Kupuję gazety. – “I’m buying newspaper.” (kupować – imperfective)

Focus on the action that I’m performing, not its completion.

Kupię gazetę. – “I’ll buy a newspaper.” (kupić – perfective)

Focus on the completion of the action that I’m performing – the fact, that the newspaper will be bought once I’m done with the action.

That may seem a bit abstract in the beginning but one really gets a hang of it with time. One thing to remember that’s pretty helpful is that the perfective aspect doesn’t have the present tense (which totally makes sense as I can’t make the action completed as it’s happening). However, I could still form sentences with other verbs in the present tense and a perfective verb:

Chcę kupić gazetę. – “I want to buy a newspaper.”

In this sentence I’m saying that I want the result of buying, that is, to have the said newspaper. If I said Chcę kupować gazetę. I’d be saying that I want the experience of buying the newspaper. As you imagine it’s unusual to hear this sentence in Polish.

Another important tip for aspect learning is learning them in pairs. This is something I’ve picked up when learning Russian as Russian has the same use of aspect in Polish. If you learn the verbs together with examples of their use, chances of you succeeding in using them appropriately increase. Alternatively, you’ll be more aware of mistakes you make which is still better than nothing!

The Final Words

I’ve given you today an overview of Polish problem areas, which hopefully will make your learning process a tad easier. It’s worth focusing on these topics because they predictably cause problems to most students of Polish. Anything else that you find particularly difficult in learning Polish? Let me know in the comments’ section!

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).