Polish is a difficult language. I know with that statement I am not “discovering America” (nie odkrywam Ameryki) as you say in Polish, but it is worth stating.
When I first came to Poland, I didn’t know a word of Polish. Well, except for szafa and dupa which are not especially helpful in everyday life. I didn’t even know tak and nie. (szafa=wardrobe, dupa=ass, tak=yes, nie=no)
Stupid, huh? Travel to a country for an extended stay not knowing the language at all. For an American, not really. As a 22- year-old American girl, I had the utmost confidence in myself and truly believed I’d just learn the language. Just like that. I mean I figured I’d have to spend about 4-6 hours a day every day for about 2 months, but that for sure, it’s learnable. It just requires some effort and a lot of memorization.
All of that would be true if I had been learning, I don’t know, English perhaps, but it just doesn’t work for Polish. Not that I didn’t try…until I finally gave up and stopped trying, my effort seeming futile ‘cause I couldn’t say anything anyhow.
I did learn a lot of vocabulary though. I loved sitting in my Archiwum reading the dictionary, making lists of words and memorizing them. I also tried to learn the vocabulary lists of the 1st and 2nd classes of high school (9th and 10th grades). I wanted to show my students that I was making an effort and on test day, they also prepared a test for me. I didn’t always do too well.
I had my favorite words, too. One of my all time favorites is smakołyk and its plural, smakołyki. It means a delicacy or treat as in a food treat, but I just love the sound of it - smak-o-łyk. Cool.
My favorite expression, I learned from my neighbor in the Village. It is lepszejszy. It should be dobry, lepszy, najlepszy (good, better, best,) but in his version it is dobry, lepszy, lepszejszy (good, better, bestest). This expression is totally awesome and I use it all the time. (Remember, Professor Miodek says the first rule of language is to communicate and next is to speak correctly.)
One of my least favorite words is wdzianko. It means something like outfit or smock, but somehow sounds like a dirty word to me.
Misiu’s old school mate who studied both Polish literature and English has his least favorite word – ruchać - (say it like you mean it and don’t forget to roll your “r” for dramatic effect). In old literature, it simply meant “to move”, but now it means “to fuck”. Another word from this base is ruch meaning movement, motion, traffic. And by the way, if while hitchhiking somebody stops to pick you up and asks you if you are going to Ruchaczewo, say no.
With a large vocabulary in Polish, you can understand a lot more of what people are saying, but you yourself cannot say very much. In English, it is quite the opposite. With just basic grammar and some vocabulary you can express a lot, even after only a few lessons.
Let’s take a look.
Today I go school. (Today, I’m going to school)
Tomorrow I go school. (Tomorrow, I will go to school.)
Yesterday I go school. (Yesterday, I went to school.)
Understand? Pretty much.
Let’s try in Polish.
Dzisiaj idę szkoła. (Dzisiaj idę do szkoły.)
Jutro idę szkoła. (Jutro idę do szkoły.)
Wczoraj idę szkoła. (Wczoraj poszłam do szkoły.)
(Wczoraj poszedłem do szkoły.)
Not convinced. What about this?
Using the same verb form in English we can change the subject to “he” or even “she, we, they” and still be more or less understood.
Today he go school. (Today he is going to school.)
Tomorrow he go school. (Tomorrow he will go to school.)
Yesterday he go school. (Yesterday, he went to school.)
In Polish, it is more difficult to figure out who we are talking about.
Dzisiaj on idę szkoła. (Dzisiaj on idzie do szkoły.)
Jutro on idę szkoła. (Jutro on idzie do szkoły.)
Wczoraj on idę szkoła. (Wczoraj on poszedł do szkoły.)
Kumasz? Coraz trudniej.
After learning food, I couldn’t order in a shop or restaurant. I had to learn whole sentences by heart.
Poprosze dziesięc plasterków szynki…
…which was good if I wanted 10 slices of ham. If I wanted 5 or 15 slices I was out of luck and how to explain to the lady that I don’t want the ham located near the hairy pig’s leg in the display case. That was beyond me.
After learning numbers, I couldn’t tell time because you tell time in Polish in ordinal numbers.
Która godzina? Pierwsza…
…which means 1st o’clock, not one o’clock and don’t get me started on the 24-hour clock and how that screwed me up at the beginning.
After learning days of the week, I couldn’t make an appointment.
Kiedy się spotkamy?
Na Poniedzałek? W Poniedziałku? W Poniedziałek?
Somehow, I managed to learn Żywiec and how to get 2 of them, practically from day one.
A girl has to have priorities.
So, I started to make sentences. I mean, I couldn’t just learn endless lists of vocabulary forever, could I? And one day walking with Misiu, I lamented that I didn’t have a hat. “Nie mam czapka,” I said. “Nie mam czapki,” he corrected. “What?” I asked. “It should be ‘nie mam czapki’ not ‘czapka’,” he further explained. And that was the moment I realized Polish was hard.
hat = czapka
I have hats. Mam czapki.
I don’t have a hat. Nie mam czapki.
I don’t have hats. Nie mam czapek.
I have a blue hat. Mam niebieską czapkę.
I have blue hats. Mam niebieskie czapki.
I don’t have a blue hat. Nie mam niebieskiej czapki.
I don’t have blue hats. Nie mam niebieskich czapek.
And if you want to buy a hat and you ask the lady, “Czy są czapki?” her answer may be “Są czapki” (there are) or “Nie ma czapek” (there aren’t). But hey, why isn’t it “Nie są”???
UGGGHHH! What did I get myself into?!?