The Polish Language: Co za bzdura?!

21 Feb 2024

Attempting discourse in the Polish language can be terrifying and humiliating, but fortunately for you most Poles, particularly young people, have a healthy command of the English language...

Co za bzdura?! (ENG: What is this madness?!)

Though you can probably get by without it, learning a few key Polish phrases will nonetheless smooth your time in the country of potatoes, cabbage and vodka, and may even win you friends and admirers. 

First the bad news: Polish is considered one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to master. Spiked with such linguistic monstrosities as chrząszcz (beetle), źdźbło (blade of grass), and szczęście (happiness), it is also a declension minefield, with no fewer than seven cases to keep track of. Think wódka (vodka) is always wódka? Nope. Depending on how you use it in a sentence, it might take the form wódki, wódkę, wódce, wódką, or wódko - and that’s sticking to the singular only. Adjectives are even worse, with the seven cases multiplied by three singular genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter - each noun in Polish is assigned one of these) and two plural genders (female only vs male/mixed) in a decisively non-binary situation (still with us?). And just to round it out, verbs also change depending on the gender of the speaker, the spoken to, and the spoken about.

Polish Scrabble tiles

So what’s the good news, then? Well, for one thing, at least you’re not tackling Finnish or Hungarian, which put Polish grammar to shame with 15 and 18 cases, respectively. And luckily for those who just want to sound out some phrases from a guidebook or dictionary, writing is phonetic; remembering some common sounds (which you’ll find below) is all that’s needed to get you reading out loud like a pro. Ready to try learning some polski? We’ve listed some basic words and phrases below, plus some amusing onomatopoetic exclamations and a few tongue twisters. Powodzenia (good luck)!

Approximate Pronunciation

Warm-up exercises are recommended to avoid a tongue hernia.
ą’ sounds like ‘on’ in the French ‘bon’ 
c’ like the ‘ts’ in ‘bits’
e’ like the ‘e’ in ‘bet’
ę’ like ‘en’ as in the French ‘bien’ 
g’ like the 'g' in ‘get’
i’ like the ‘ee’ in ‘feet’
j’ like the ‘y’ in ‘yeah’
ł’ like the ‘w’ in ‘win’
ń’ like the ‘ny’ in ‘canyon’
ó’ and ‘u’ like ‘oo’ in ‘boot’
w’ like the ‘v’ in ‘very’
y’ like the ‘i’ in ‘hit’
ch’ and ‘h’ like the ‘h’ in ‘his’
cz’ and ‘ć’ like the ‘ch’ in ‘beach’
dz’ like the ‘ds’ in ‘beds’
'' like the ‘g’ in ‘George’
rz,’ ‘ż’ and ‘ź’ like the ‘su’ in ‘treasure’
sz’ and ‘ś’ like the ‘sh’ in ‘ship’

Basic Polish Words & Phrases

Yes Tak (Tahk)
No Nie (Nyeh)
Okay No (Nohe)
Hi/Bye (informal) Cześć (Cheshch) 
Hello/Good day (formal) Dzień dobry (Jen doh-bri)
Good evening (formal) Dobry wieczór (Doh-bri vyeh-choor)
Good-bye Do widzenia (Doh veet-zen-ya)
Good Night Dobranoc (Doh-brah-noats)
Please Proszę (Prosheh)
Thank you Dziękuje (Jen-koo-yeh)
Excuse me/Sorry Przepraszam (Psheh-prasham)
What’s your name? (informal) Jak masz na imię? (Yak mash na ee-myeh?)
My name is... Mam na imię... (Mam nah ee-myeh…)
I’m from England. Jestem z Anglii (Yehstem zanglee)
Do you speak English? (informal) Czy mówisz po angielsku? (Che moo-veesh po an-gyel-skoo?)
Do you speak English? (formal) Czy mówi pan/pani (male/female) po angielsku? (Che moo-vee pan/pan-ee po an-gyel-skoo?)
I don’t speak Polish. Nie mówię po polsku. (Nyeh moo-vyeh po pol-skoo.)
I don’t understand. Nie rozumiem. (Nyeh row-zoo-me-ehm.)
Two beers, please. Dwa piwa proszę. (Dvah peevah prosheh.)
Cheers! Na zdrowie! (Nah zdrovyeh!)
Where are the toilets? Gdzie są toalety? (Gdjeh sawn toy-le-tih)
I love you. Kocham cię. (Ko-hahm che.)
Please take me home. Proszę zabierz mnie do domu. (Prosheh za-byesh mnyeh doh doh-moo.)
Call me! Zadzwoń do mnie! (Zads-dvoan doh mnyeh!)
Airport Lotnisko (Lot-nees-ko)
Train station Dworzec PKP (Dvoar-jets Peh Kah Peh)
Bus station Dworzec PKS (Dvoar-jets Peh Kah Ess)
One ticket to… Jeden bilet do… (Yeh-den bee-let doh…)

Polish Onomatopoeia

Achoo! Apsik! App-sheek!
Ow!/Ouch! Ała! Ah-wah!
Shh! (Be quiet!) Ćśś! (Cicho!) Chshh! (Chee-hoe!)
Eww! (Gross!) Fuj! (Ohyda!) Foy! (O-hid-da)
Woof woof! (dog) Hau hau! (pies) How how! (pee-es)
Oink oink (pig) Chrum chrum (świnia) Hroom hroom (shveen-nya)
Ribbit ribbit (frog) Kum kum (żaba) Koom koom (zshyah-ba)
Knock knock (Who's there?) Puk puk (Kto tam?) Pook pook (kah-toe tahm)

Polish Tongue Twisters

W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie. In Szczebrzeszyn, the beetle buzzes in the reed.
Czy rak trzyma w szczypcach strzęp szczawiu czy trzy części trzciny? Does the crab hold in its claws a piece of sorrel, or three pieces of a reed?
Nie pieprz, Pietrze, wieprza pieprzem, bo przepieprzysz wieprza pieprzem. Peter, don't pepper the boar with pepper, because you'll over-pepper the boar with pepper.
Głaszcz jeźdźcze rżącego źrebca! Rider, stroke the neighing foal.

Long live Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz!

As the popular joke goes, Polish math students were able to break the German Enigma code during WWII because it was nothing compared to the challenge of speaking Polish. In this famous clip (below) from the Polish film, 'How I Started World War II' (Jak rozpętałem II-gą wojnę światową), a Polish prisoner uses a false name to thwart the Nazis. You never know when speaking a language that sounds like a mouthful of bees could come in handy.


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