How to digest Polish? Get friendly with grammar.
Are you one of those learners who has an allergy to the word “grammar”?
Are you already pulling you face having only read the title? Is the word “grammar” putting you off? Boring, complicated, dull, tedious…
Don’t click away from this post yet, let me convince you that you can digest it and make it your friend!
I feel your pain… who likes thick grammar textbooks with pages of verb tables and complicated words we don’t even understand…what’s a case, an imperfective verb or a gerund? You ask yourself why do I need that if my only goal is to converse?
I get it -I was there and I know all those questions in your head. But in this post, I would like to invite you to look at grammar as your buddy. Why? To make that friendship beneficial for your learning.
Love / hate relationship
I used to hate grammar when at primary school. Russian was compulsory. I remember I had to study tons of rules for the sake of rules, just to get a good mark. On the positive side, at that time, I loved watching a Russian animated series “Ну, погоди!”. By the way, I like the language and it’s on my languages to learn list.
Since my primary school experience, which was in the 1980’s, my relationship with grammar has completely changed and let me tell you, now I love it!
How did it happen?
I looked at grammar differently. Maybe you are like I used to be, and you consider Polish grammar as your enemy? An enemy who is boring and serious, who is only looking for a moment to catch you out with another crazy exception?
You don’t see it possible to change your feelings towards Polish grammar? I know, a good relationship requires work and patience, but it’s worth it in the end. I embraced that challenge when I started learning French at high school. It was my first seriously learnt language with a good dose of grammar. Result? I fell head over heels in love for French.
I loved the language, its sound, the culture and I had a good reason for learning it. If I had let myself be discouraged by grammar, articles, various tenses which don’t even exist in Polish, I would not speak and teach French today.
Grammar = the glue for your creativity
Do you learn Polish words with Duolingo or another application? Building up your vocab is important to have the right words when we need them in our conversations. Your vocabulary bank could be amazingly rich, however, if you don’t know how to attach the words together, you would probably speak a broken language (in Polish we say mówić jak Kali jeść, Kali pić, meaning you speak basically without any grammar*).
You could be a walking dictionary, but you still need the glue that puts the words together to make correct and meaningful conversations – i.e. grammar.
How many words do you know in Polish?
No, I don’t want you to count, just imagine the infinite sentences you can say with. Once you learn a new structure, new pattern, you can start to play with the Glue. It allows you be more creative and you don’t have to stick to set sentences from a phrasebook. You can make your own, related to you, to your life.
You may still be resistant to enter a relationship with grammar and say you don’t need it to speak. I agree with you, you don’t need to even know what the instrumental case in Polish is and you can still use it perfectly. You may say that children do it naturally and they don’t even know what the word grammar means. Again, I agree, but we are adult learners and we learn differently.
Of course, you can grasp the language without even knowing what a gender, case or preposition stand for. You just learn by listening to natives and repeating in the same context. That is a great way to learn, but unfortunately we are not always in that comfortable situation.
Learning a language = building a house
The foundations of a new house never look good. They are not the prettiest part, but essential to start building up your dream house with that terrace and the sea view.The grammar is similar, neither the most fun element of learning, nor the most beautiful, but fundamental.
It gives you the foundations for being able to communicate and then to boost your speaking skills on that base.
Sometimes when you are on that building site, you have the impression you are stuck and not moving forward to see your terrace. But the trick is to carry on, building up that house, brick by brick, grammar structure by structure…I admit, it can be challenging to go through the labyrinth of never ending conjugations, various endings, exceptions from exceptions, but believe me, your effort pays off.
Then you reach the moment when you can move in, furnish, decorate….the game with grammar just starts… You have all the knowledge you built your place on, now it is up to you how much time and effort you put into your new house.
Get that Glue to speak!
As much as I believe in grammar and its necessity in improving language skills, I believe mainly in communication. In my early days as a Polish tutor, I remember one student that I probably scared too much with my thorough and dry explanation about the Accusative case. He never got back to me. Lesson learnt. I have decided to never teach outside the context. Teaching and learning grammar? Only in a communicative and practical approach.
I love grammar not for the sake of loving grammar, but because it allows me to communicate, to share my opinions and express my emotions. At the end of the day, if you have tackled the Genitive case, it’s for being able to say you don’t like something or there is no milk in the fridge for your cup of tea!
TO TAKE AWAY
Change your mindset – become friendly with grammar
Grammar is the glue for your stand alone words. Glue them!
Learn a pattern, practise in your context, apply it to you personal situation
Be creative with your learning
Don’t get overwhelmed, be patient, go structure by structure