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16 March 2008

Polish language books and websites

It goes without saying that one of the toughest parts to living abroad is dealing with the local language.

I tried learning Polish from zero when I was still in the UK but without much luck. Now, a couple of years later, there are more resources available including evening classes (which my parents thoroughly enjoy going to back in London!).

As everyone says, there is nothing like being in the country to help you learn. Obviously the more enveloped you are in the language the better. But even this ranges - I know some people who live and work with English speakers and don't bother to learn Polish at all. At the other end of the scale, I was thrown in at the deep-end because I rarely have contact with English speakers, and I have only got Polish TV. It was tough at the start but was worth the extra effort.

I'm by no means an expert, but my advice to anyone starting to learn Polish is this - THE FIRST 100 WORDS ARE THE HARDEST - KEEP GOING! When it's all new nothing makes sense and you don't see any patterns in the words. It's very easy to give up at the start - but the start is the most difficult as that's the steepest part of the learning curve. DON'T GIVE UP - KEEP DOING A LITTLE BIT EACH WEEK. You will get a lot of satisfaction when you start to work things out for yourself and when you start seeing patterns in the words and spellings.

I have been asked a couple of times how I learnt Polish - basically I taught myself (and am still going of course!). I already had a good understanding of grammar from studying German and dabbling with Latin, so was happy with things like cases and tenses etc.. Therefore I just got myself a couple of books, found a course on the Internet, and went from there.

Websites for learning Polish:

University of Pittsburgh Polish Language Website
Without a doubt the best course I have found (and it's free!) is at the University of Pittsburgh. The course is a little dated and there are a number of typos and mistakes in there (increasing in density as the course goes on), but I think the structure and content are excellent.

Polish Forums Learning Links
This link is a thread at where people have posted useful stuff. Worth having a dig around.

Books for learning Polish:

Polish/English Dictionaries:

Oxford PWN Polish/English dictionary
If you want a hardcore heavy duty dictionary for your bookshelf then by far this is the best one. This is the daddy of all dictionaries. I paid about £75 for it and I reckon it's a good investment. It is actually two huge books - one is Polish to English, the other English to Polish. I like this one as it has a vast collection of swear words (always handy). When I can't find a word in one of my smaller dictionaries or I want a fuller description then that's the one I use.

Cambridge Klett Concise Polish-English dictionary
This one is good value at £8.49 and very useful. This is the one I use day to day and am very happy with it.

Langensheidt Pocket dictionary
I have added this one for completeness because I also have it BUT IT SUCKS so don't buy it.
Annoyingly it has many blank pages presumably due to a printing error. Whether that's just my one or a whole batch I don't know.

Polish Text Books

I like to get stuff for free which is why I use the online courses where possible, but sometimes it's nice to have a book for when you want a rest from the screen, want to make notes in it or are travelling etc..

Here is a list of the books I have used and my rating on them:

301 Polish Verbs
This book is basically a list of common verbs and how to conjugate them. For example if you know the word "prosić" (to ask, request, beg, plead, invite) then it will show you what the perfective is (poprosić) and how to conjugate them to make the past/present/future/conditional/imperative etc... It will also show you related words (e.g. przeprosić - to apologise) which I find useful for improving my vocabulary. Good as a reference book.

Teach Yourself Polish
Typical teach yourself style book where you are expected to work through the chapters progressively. Useful enough, contains some good vocabulary but not my favourite book by far. The book avoids using grammatical terms which some people might like but I don't - for example one chapter talks extensively about the difference between determinate and indeterminate verbs of motion (e.g. iść versus chodzić) but without mentioning even once the words "determinate" or "indeterminate". Also by trying to avoid the grammar, the order the content is delivered in seems strange to me and things aren't explained as they crop up but are left until their own chapter which I find frustrating.

Polish in 3 months
Good alround book and one of the first ones I bought. The title annoys me though - does anyone really think they can master Polish in 3 months? Guess a book called "A polish course that lasts 3 months if you do a lesson a week" probably wouldn't sell as well though...
Anyway a good book for beginners.

For intermediate to advanced speakers:

It's easy to find resources such as the ones above if you are a total beginner, but beyond the basics it get's harder to find suitable material.

My suggestions are:
  1. Try this Polish educational publisher who have books for foreigners:
  2. Join the local library (free) and get childrens' books. I once asked my wife to go for me and she asked the librarian where the kiddie books were with pictures. The librarian asked her - "how old's your boy?". My wife said 28. The librarian was obviously stuck for words until my wife told her I am a foreigner!
  3. Get Polish TV and try and listen to Polish radio.
  4. Read the news in Polish. I don't particulary have any favourite Polish news sites - they seem to be full of ads and pop-ups - if anyone has any good ones please drop me a comment.
I hope this post has been useful. As ever, comments are welcome.


pinolona said...

Not especially helpful for learning the language, but good for a laugh, have you tried this?

And this is the textbook that we use:

I've been here a year and our group is pretty much A2 level, so the Hurra books may be too easy for you (we're on chapter 2 of the second one).

BritInPoland said...

thanks for the tip - will have a look at those links. Cheers. Ben

Biluś said...

Hi Ben,

Great blog - thanks for the tips and links! I'm back in blighty to zarobic for a while and then hope to return to your neck of the woods and build a house in the mountains. In the meantime, I'm trying to reinforce my polish language and one way is via this blog:

I've also used a number of books to get to grips with the language - and the abiding favourite for me - mostly because it focuses on communicative ability - has been "Cześć, Jak Się Masz?: A Polish Language Textbook for Beginners: Bk.1" by Władysław Miodunka which can be found on Amazon - I can also recommend the follow-up to this, which places Poles and the Polish in a European context.

BritInPoland said...

That's great Biluś - will have a good look through your blog this week! Cheers. Ben

Anonymous said...

I often use
when I forget a word:)


Malgorzata said...

There is also a good on-line dictionary


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