Around ten years ago now I tasked myself with learning Polish. Not for shits and giggles or just to challenge myself but for the very practical reason of being able to communicate with my partner’s family who live in Poland.
It was a hard slog and some even consider Polish to be the hardest of all languages for native English speakers to tackle. Yet I persisted with it and I am happy to say that I dipped my toes into this quirky, poetic, intense and beautiful language.
When I was in Poland in 2016, I was sitting in the Dentist waiting for the PB to get his teeth examined and an old woman sat there staring at me with curiosity. She finally plucked up the courage to talk to me and I was trying really hard to explain where I was from and why I was there. She loved that I was trying. Everyone there is so down-to-earth and because the language is complex and convoluted, nobody expects foreigners to actually speak the language. So it’s always delightful to surprise people by pulling out all of these Polish words.
Polish people are patient with foreigners, and are genuinely pleased when foreigners try to speak Polish, so it’s well worth the effort to learn the language.
More English speakers should make the effort learn this very precise, emotionally charged and intense language. Here are some words with no English equivalent. (I didn’t know some of these words, I had to Google them, I’m not that advanced yet). Infact six years on from writing this, I am ashamed to say I have forgotten a lot of Polish, but I hope it will return like a long-lost friend when I return there.
Many cultures share this concept, but Polish sums it up in a single word. “A parental contract with children guaranteeing life-long support”.
Similar to the French Bon appétit!. Smacznego comes from the Polish word for tasty. It’s said before you start eating by polite waitresses everywhere.
This means getting something done by whatever means necessary; either using legal or illegal methods such as bribes, political clout, connections, or simply personal charm. During the days of Communism in Poland, there was plenty of ‘zalatwic’ going on, but that’s all started to change now with the new Polish government introducing broad sweeping changes to laws left over from Communism. Recently the government abolished astonishingly large pensions left continuing indefinitely for people who were in positions of power, such as the Secret Police, during the Communist era.
Some people translate ‘kamienica’ to mean an ordinary ‘building’. However a kamienica is anything but ordinary. It’s one of those gorgeous, colourful heritage buildings that tend to manage to find their way into all of the Instagram photos of Polish cities.
Examples of Kamienica in Wrocław
This is adjective meaning ‘good’. However ‘pogodnie’ comes from the word for weather (pogoda) and so in Polish when there’s a fine day you would literally say ‘pogodnie pogoda’, which literally translates to ‘The weather is weather’ or ‘The weather is weatherly’ – quirky.
This word is often translated as ‘sadness’ or ‘grief’, but both words are too general, whereas ‘żal’ usually refers to sadness in very specific circumstances, with connotations of disappointment and betrayal – Polish culture is known for its melancholy.
Used in academic circles and in colloquial speech sometimes. ‘Formacja’ can be described as a mind-set and a way of thinking that’s particular to a generation or era. The German word ‘zeitgeist’ comes close to this word.
A weird little word which could be translated to the ‘umpteenth’ time. Although Kilkanaście implies a number between 12 and 19. No English word that does the same thing!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Do you speak any other languages? If so have they enriched your life and imagination in different ways?