Why endless complaining about Polish won’t move your learning forward
Last year I decided to take up a completely new language. From scratch. I wanted again to feel as my students do and put myself in the shoes of a proper beginner. I was tempted by Portuguese, but knowing Spanish already, I thought it would be cheating on my complete novice plan. As I live in Wales and my knowledge of Welsh was limited to araf (slow) painted on the road , I opted for my first Celtic language.
I wanted a challenge, so I have it…
Enthusiastically, I started my adventure, all set to learn how to read all those words with ll looking so unpronounceable. I could not connect it to any of the languages I already spoke, make associations, everything was a novelty. I admit, I am a grammar freak, but when I discovered Welsh rules and especially the mutation system, it threw me off balance! It was so difficult to get my head around it and my level of frustration rose with each lesson. I just could not accept it, it was so hard to grasp and use.
At some point, I realised that I was spending more time complaining than actually studying. Instead of grumbling how hard, complicated and annoying the Welsh grammar is, I could have simply learnt something! As in life, in language learning, there is a moment when you have to accept something and live with it.
Is Polish the first language you are tackling? Yes? First, let me congratulate you! And if you are already multi-lingual and Polish is your next challenge, you get a round of applause from me.
Polish has its label of a difficult language and reputation for being impossible to learn. We shouldn’t think in categories easy or difficult, as any language has its good and bad features. It is more about our approach to the language we are learning.
As a tutor, I see various emotions painted on the faces of my students; from surprise that the word coffee can have seven forms, depending on the context when it is used, confusion that one English verb has two Polish equivalents, to frustration with a tricky system of Polish numbers which gives you nightmares…
You may shake your head many times when flipping through Polish workbooks. Perhaps, you puff and blow when reading grammar explanations. You probably ask the why is it so complicated question on various occasions.
Are you a but why student? Children like to pester their parents with the why question. But it happens also to us, adult learners, when we are faced with a new language. Its structures, different cultural references are new to us and as children do, we have a tendency to keep asking the question why is it like that, why is it not…
The why question pops automatically as we look for an explanation when something is completely different and unrecognisable. However, asking why for the sake of why won’t move us forward.
Why Polish is so difficult?
Why on earth for each rule are there exceptions?
Why the number two has so many forms?
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s crucial to ask questions especially when you learn a new language and try to understand a completely new system. As a learner, I do it all the time. While teaching, I love students who ask questions. They question which means they think, they don’t just take a new information as it is.
Yet, if you keep asking the same general question, which in the first place is purposeless, maybe it is time to change your approach to the language. Your why Polish grammar is so complicated won’t make the language easier.
Polish grammar made easy! – this type of slogan and advert always irritates me. You can’t make Polish grammar easy. Instead, you can explain it more in depth or transparently, in little chunks, but making it easy? Let’s be honest…
I learnt that it’s far more effective asking the how question: how can I remember this rule, how can I connect it to what I already know and how I can make use of it in my conversations with natives.
If you want to learn successfully, you have to come to terms with the fact that Polish has many features that don’t exist in English. You have to accept it and start acting instead of complaining.
Accept and become a mature learner
I imagine you are learning Polish for some special reasons which keeps you going while you’re wrestling with the grammar. You accepted the challenge and you are moving at your speed forward. But we are all human and we all have bad days, doubts and occasionally we may moan.
So what to do when you are challenged with yet another Polish grammar oddity?
Find a group of likeminded learners and share your thoughts, ask questions and have a little moan together about numerous forms of Polish nouns! There are many Polish learners groups online and offline.
Instead of going into complaining mode, look at it differently, even with a dose of humour! Once you discover that for nearly each English verb you have two in Polish, don’t start panicking! Just think how much you have extended your vocabulary bank!
Yes, sometimes it’s much better to accept and smile! Lamenting won’t help you in making your Polish better. Accept the challenge and dive into the language as a mature learner.
Finally, don’t think of Polish as difficult. Instead, view it from a different angle, look at all the exceptions and irregularities as nice charming Polish features. Think how smart you are, learning Polish. Yes, you definitely are!