Photo: Anna Gora

Polish is classified as a western Slavonic language and it is most closely related to the Czech, Slovak and Sorbian languages, which are found in Central Europe. It uses the Latin alphabet with the addition of the letters ą,ć,ę,ł,ń,ó,ś,ź,ż. The letters ‘q’, ‘v’ and ‘x’ are only included in foreign words. [1] In addition, the Polish vocabulary uses a wide range of words borrowed from classical and Church Latin, as well as German, French, and Italian. [2]

Polish is the official language of Poland. However, native speakers can also be found in a number of other countries including: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Kazakhstan,
Lithuania, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and the United States. [3] Currently, there are about 6 million Polish speakers living outside of Poland, many of those even outside of Europe. [4][5]


The earliest written example of the Polish language dates back to 1365. However, the language itself is thought to be much older. Unfortunately, in those times most writing was done in Latin, so it is difficult to trace the exact age of the Polish language using written texts. [6] The oldest written Polish place names can already be found in Latin documents from the 9th and 10th centuries. [7]

A hymn called “Bogurodzica” is considered by many historians to be the oldest Polish poem. However, like many other texts, it was not written down until centuries after it was originally composed! This poem was sung by the Polish Knights at the Battle of Grunewald against the Teutonic Knights in 1410. Standard Polish came about during the Renaissance which made Polish literature written since then easily accessible to every generation of educated people that followed. [8]

To date, four Nobel laureates in literature have been awarded the prize for literature in Polish. These include: Wislawa Szymborska (1996), Czeslaw Milosz (1980), Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont (1924) and Henryk Sienkiewicz (1905).


Despite its complicated appearance, Polish spelling is consistent and the pronunciation is almost completely phonetic. Each letter usually makes the same sound in each word, and there are no silent letters! This makes it much easier for English speakers to learn how to read Polish words, than it is for Polish speakers to read English! [9]

Below are a few examples of how to pronounce some of the more common Polish sounds:

‘om’, as in dąb (oak): pronounced ‘domp’
‘en’, as in pęk (bundle): pronounced ‘penk
‘w’, as in piła (saw): pronounced the like the ‘w’ in ‘peewit’
– ń
soft ñ , link in the Spanish ‘mañana’
French ‘ge’, as in général: eg. Rząd (government)
– w
‘v’, as in ‘waza’ (vase)
dzi, dź, dż
English ‘j’ as in dżinsy (jeans), dżem (jam) etc.
‘shch’ pronounced together, like in ‘fish-chips’


Polish grammar can be very confusing, especially its system of grammatical gender. The different divisions of gender go beyond just feminine and masculine and vary depending on the tense. In the singular form, there are masculine, feminine and neutral genders. In the accusative case, the masculine gender is divided into animate and inanimate. This means that verbs not only need to be conjugated with a masculine ending, but also need to consider if the gender is ‘animate’ or ‘inanimate,’ which changes the word further. In the plural form, there is the masculine personal gender (referring to a group of people that has at least 1 male) or an unmarked gender. [10] In addition, the Polish language sometimes uses the dual (grammatical) number. This means that certain (but not all) nouns, pronouns and even verbs not only have a singular form, but also a plural form referring to ‘two’.

For example:

If you were to ask for pretzels at a bakery you would ask for jeden (1) prezel, dwa (2) precle, pięć (5) precli etc. Notice that the noun precel (or pretzel in English) changes depending on how many you ask for.

In addition, in some circumstances, numbers also carry gender:

The number two (2) in Polish is dwa. Two say two girls we one would write dwie dzeiwczyny, but to say two boys one would write dwa chłopcy. In total, the number 2 has 17 different grammatical forms!

Useful Expressions:

Hello Dzień dobry ‘jeñ dobri” (i as in ‘sing’)
Hi / Bye
Do widzenia
‘Doe veed-zen-yah’
How are you?
Jak sie masz ? ‘yak shen mash’
Excuse me
‘p-ge-pra-sham‘ ( ‘ge’, as in ‘généra’l)
Do you speak English?
czy mówisz po angielsku? ‘Chi movie-sh po ang-yell-sku‘ (i as in ‘sing’)
Yes / No
Tak / Nie ‘tahk / nieh’
Thank you
‘jen -kooye’
My name is… Nazywam się … / Mam na imię… ‘nah-zy-vahm sien..’. / ‘Mahm nah eemien … ‘
I’m from Canada.
Jestem z Kanady. ‘yestam z kah-nah-di’ (‘i’ as in ‘sing’)
I’m lost. Where is the nearest telephone/train station/hospital?

Zgubiłem (f. Zgubiłam) sie. Gdzie jest najbliższy telefon/dworzec kolejowy/ szpital?

How much does it cost?
Ile Kosztuje? ‘eel-e kosh-two-ye’

Language Resources:

Try out this Polish dialogue: Unia Europejska: Model dla Ameryki Pólnocnej?

Polish Learning Website – Dictionary, grammar, short stories, songs and more from the University of Pittsburgh.
English-Polish Online Dictionary – Translate English into Polish using this simple dictionary.
Polish Grammar – Guide developed by Professor Ronald F. Feldstein, Indiana University.
Internet TESL Journal – Interactive English-Polish and Polish-English vocabulary quizzes.
Linguanaut: Learn Polish – Free simple Polish lessons including phrases, alphabet, numbers, adjectives, verbs and more.
Polish Grammar – A useful (and simple) introduction to Polish Grammer.

Culture Po Polsku:

[1] Source: “Languages Across Europe: Polish “ BBC online Available online at
[2] Source: Davies, Norman. “Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
[3] Source: “Poland – Ethnologue” Ethnologue: Languages of the World
[4] Source: “Profile: Poland” BBC Country Profiles at:
[5] Source: “Languages Across Europe: Polish “ BBC online
[6] Source: Davies
[7] Source: “Languages Across Europe: Polish “ BBC online
[8] Source: Davies
[9] Ibid.
[10]  Source: “Languages Across Europe: Polish “ BBC online