learning Polish

To start my story off, imagine living in a country where you can’t communicate with everyone. Someone says something to you in the store and you just smile… and feel stupid! 

This has been my life for many years.

In 2016, I moved to Poland to make it my new home. Initially, I thought I would get by with only using English, because I worked as a consultant and had visited Poland many times. English had been more than enough when I stayed in a hotel or worked in an international company. 

However, this time in my life was completely different. I was married to a Pole, and even if I tried to communicate with my Polish husband’s family in English, I would get stuck and could not fully communicate. English wasn’t enough.

At one Christmas dinner, I felt desperate while sitting and looking at people laughing, talking and making jokes that I could not understand. This is when I decided: I have to learn Polish. I will spend the next year studying it.

But, where do I start? What should I do exactly? 

I decided to try out Polish classes. This was the most obvious solution, wasn’t it? I learned English at school, having a teacher to support me. Even if my husband was a polyglot and suggested other solutions, I thought I had to follow my gut feeling.

I was getting more and more excited for my first class. I saw my new teacher – a blonde girl with glasses, called Marta. She smiled at me, of course as much as a Pole can smile, and asked:

“Khushbu, what are your expectations?”

I was super motivated, so I replied immediately: “I want to learn Polish in a year’s time. I would like to…”

At that moment, Marta started laughing, so I didn’t finish my sentence.

“Stop daydreaming, Khushbu. You can’t learn Polish in one year. You will need maybe several years to learn it well!”

Have you ever felt like someone destroys your dreams in one instant? Like all your future plans disappear in front of your eyes?

I was devastated.

But then, I said to myself: “I can’t give up”.

After the class ended, I remembered how I had studied English at school. My father would give me a card with the list of all irregular verb forms and I would memorize it in one day. I would fix this card on the wall and look at it every day. As a result, my English improved a lot. So, I thought why not do the same with Polish?

I asked my husband to give me a list of all the verb forms in Polish. And then, to my surprise, he gave me a big book full of tables, words, forms, etc. 

I was shocked. 

How would anybody memorize all that?

I didn’t want to give up, so instead I signed up for classes in a language school. I bought more and more books to help me with Polish grammar. However, did I make any progress? I did come across some great teachers that helped me a lot, but I could not retain what I had learned for a longer period of time. 

Maybe I was not consistent and persistent enough? Maybe I just didn’t have the time?

One day, when I was putting the book back on the shelf, I heard Marta’s laughter in my head with her voice saying: “Will you ever learn Polish?”

At that moment, out of pure frustration, I finally asked my husband Konrad for help. 

Introducing my husband, Konrad, the Polish polyglot

Now, before I continue, here’s a little introduction about Konrad here. He is a polyglot who speaks around 20 languages out of which 14 were tested on a famous Polish TV show called “The Brain”. Also, he is the author of the book “The Secrets of Polyglots”, and he has created language courses that have helped thousands of Poles learn a foreign language by themselves. 

Konrad has always said that everyone can learn a language by themselves and that it’s not necessary to go through the typical cycle of learning a language for many years and spending a lot of money in the process. All in all, it depends on our learning styles and how we want to learn as different individuals. You need to find out your learning style, learn through repetition and maintain daily contact with the language. Our brain is capable of understanding the patterns and eventually connects the dots to make sense of the patterns and how to use them.

Now, going back to my conversation with Konrad… There was just one problem. 

He had no course for English speakers to learn Polish.

But, as you might guess, there was only one way to go. I asked him to create one! And, you know what? A wife can be very convincing, as the course got created really quickly!

Learning Polish with Elemelingua

The course started in Nov 2021. I enrolled together with other students, as it’s always better to study together. Together, we went through the 3 months course where we learned Polish through the help of flashcards, but not the kind of flashcards you know from different learning apps. We didn’t memorize any words. The flashcards had full sentences and explanations that helped me understand the tricky nature of the Polish language. We could also ask questions to our teachers and have some fun going through weekly tasks.

This gave me the flexibility to learn anytime and anywhere. I went on our app Globott to work with the flashcards. Whenever I had a 5 minute break from work. I listened to the Polish sentences on flashcards, and I tried to translate them to English. I worked with the flashcards regularly before going to bed. Eventually, a funny thing happened: I stopped looking at my social media in the evening and instead I would learn Polish.

This was a game changer for me. 

My dream was coming true. I had finally activated my Polish. At last, I was able to make my own sentences. Best of all, I didn’t have to memorize conjugation and declension tables. I started simply feeling out which form sounds right. 

Sometimes, we get scared by the difficult grammar concepts, but if we get exposure to the language, our brain knows what to do. It analyzes the patterns, learns them and tries to repeat them whenever it comes to speaking.

One thing truly shocked me. I was able to remember and retain a lot more than in my previous experiences. Globott planned out when and what I had to repeat, which saved me a lot of time. 

I didn’t stop there. 

When I felt I had a good foundation, I decided to join classes again… with a new teacher, of course! The company I worked for offered me a 90 minute online Polish class every Friday. At that point, I felt I started making even more progress. My teacher Gosia was amazed how well I understood cases now without even remembering their names. 

Indeed, the sentences from the flashcards helped me learn Polish grammar, which can be a little intimidating, especially in the beginning. Maybe it’s because the names like “Mianownik, Biernik, Dopełniacz” look more like names of some ancient Slavic dragons.

The final challenge

I was doing better and better, so as a next step, I decided to tackle the State Polish B1 exam. I read so many stories about it. Some people said it was impossible to pass, especially for someone whose mother tongue is not Slavic.

Preparing for an exam is a bit different. There are many elements you have to tackle. I was not so confident in written Polish, so I joined group classes that helped with the technical aspects of the exam. My husband suggested I should start writing short texts using simple sentences. This way it was much easier to find the right word and form.

And then, it happened!

It was June 2022. I was really stressed. So stressed that, while saying goodbye to the exam commission, I said “pa pa!” instead of “do widzenia”. I used an informal greeting that Poles use mostly with their family members but never in an official setting. Of course, everyone laughed. However, this laughter was different from the one I heard from Marta. I felt it was a laughter of appreciation and empathy. Yes, we know you are stressed, but you did a good job.

Did I pass the exam? 

You bet I did! I got an aggregate 77% with the highest score in speaking.

Therefore, I decided to write this article, because maybe you too have met a teacher like Marta who has cut off your wings and killed your motivation. If I was able to pass the exam, you can do it too. Just don’t make the same mistakes I did. 

Final words of wisdom

Now that you’ve heard about my adventure of learning Polish, here are a few recommendations that I will leave you with:

  1. Don’t listen to people who discourage you. Many people will want to pull you down. Just follow your plan and be patient.
  2. Set your goals realistically. First, learn the language to communicate and be understood. You don’t need to learn complex vocabulary at the level of writing poems.
  3. Do some research on what material people recommend. The Internet is full of books, articles, and websites that can help you. Test them out and see what works best for you.
  4. Stay in constant touch with the language. Go on a date with the Polish language every day even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  5. Find out your learning style and choose a study plan for you. Maybe self study might work best for you, or perhaps you need a teacher. Take the learning style test here (click here) and check how you should learn a language.
  6. Build a foundation first. You can take the Elemelingua Polish course created by my husband or any other that is based on simple sentences and the most common Polish vocabulary. Once you have created a strong foundation, you will be in a better place to craft your next language learning goals, whether they are passing the certification exams or just advancing the language to a higher level.
  7. If preparing for the state exam, check the exam papers from the previous years and see which areas you should strengthen. Maybe it’s writing? Maybe it’s some specific vocabulary like numbers? Or maybe it’s grammar? Work on it, and look for exercises and materials that train these specific areas.

And now, it’s my turn to wish you good luck!

I hope you are able to achieve your language learning goals just as I did!

PS: If my story has inspired you, I encourage you to try out the same Polish course I did with Elemelingua.

Khushbu Jerzak vel Dobosz

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