The Polish Language & Why You Should Learn It
Why Should I Learn Polish?
People often learn the language that will be most "useful" to them. If you will be traveling for work or school often then this is an important factor to consider. For this reason, many people in the US choose to learn languages like Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Russian, and Italian because of the economic strength of those countries and because these languages are largely spoken in multiple countries.
However, it is also important to remember that with increasing globalization, more and more people are speaking English. Those that go on international business in Europe will see that many of the business men & women already have a great understanding of English. It's everywhere! If you already know a fairly universal language, why learn another one? Why not learn a language that can get you somewhere English can't? I do believe it is incredibly important to spend time familiarizing yourself with the local language but quite often, people will hear from your accent that you are American and may begin simply speaking English with you. Don't assume this, however!
Okay, so back to Polish. Polish really isn't on many people's lists-it wasn't on mine until recently! I was learning Russian but, because of the difficulty and several social factors, I decided I would rather learn Polish (more on that later). But, I realized a couple key things.
The Polish Diaspora (Polonia)
About 20 million people of Polish descent live outside of Poland, making it one of the biggest immigrant groups in the world. Because of the large population of Poles living outside of Poland, the language and culture has spread across the world. The majority of Poles live in the Americas, Australia, UK, and throughout Europe. In Iceland, there are a lot of Polish immigrants and as a result, many signs and news releases are in Icelandic and Polish. In Great Britain, Polish is one of the most widely spoken languages behind English. Are you going skiing in the Austrian Alps? Don't be surprised in seeing the signs in Polish! If you go to Croatia in the summer, be prepared to meet a lot of Poles!
Learning Polish will give you a chance to communicate with people all over the world. Not convinced?
1. Polish is the gateway to the Slavic languages
Slavic languages like Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Serbian, and Bulgarian employ the use of the Cyrillic lettering system. For those who use the Latin alphabet, it can be difficult to take on a new language and a new alphabet. Polish uses the Latin alphabet with a few additions that can be learned easily and quickly. You will be able to begin reading and writing in Polish in no time.
Polish is also related to Czech and Slovak and while not usually mutually intelligible, your knowledge of Polish will undoubtedly help you understand and get around. Arguably, about 1/3 of Europe will be able to understand you somehow
2. Polish is the second most widely spoken Slavic language
Behind only what? Russian.
3. Polish is largely phonetic
Once you understand the sounds the letters of the Polish alphabet, the words are more or less phonetically pronounced. That makes it much easier to learn and commit words to memory.
4. Poland emerged with economic power after the recession in the EU
You heard that right. Poland was the only country to come out stronger economically out of those hit by the economic recession in the European Union. Jobs are expanding and growing in Poland.
5. English probably won't get you anywhere in Russia
Russia is, in a way, similar to the United States in that it is so large and they rarely encounter people that do not speak their mother tongue. Many Russians do not find it useful to learn English. If Russian is too daunting for you to learn, give Polish a try!
6. Russian in the former Eastern Bloc won't do you any favors, either
With the exception of older citizens or those close to the Russian border, many people in the former Soviet states won't understand your Russian. Speaking Russian may not be helpful whatsoever in Poland, since they do not use the Cyrillic script and have a fairly low amount of people that use Russian daily. It has been reported that often, when trying to use Russian in areas like the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and other Eastern European countries, people may be more hostile or less willing to assist you. I had this happen to a friend of mine with a German accent, but she did say it was with an older gentleman. There is a complicated history here.
7. Poland has a complicated and interesting history
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth expanded from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Poland was historically tolerant of other religions but was ravaged in WWII. Three million Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and the land was occupied by Nazi Germany. After the war, Poland was the only Allied nation to fall under the Iron Curtain and was subject to communist rule under the USSR. The best way to see a different country and learn about their history is with their own language. Maybe after your studies in Polish you will understand Poland's history even better.
These are some great tips and motivation to get started but it is widely assumed that Polish is difficult to learn. If you are a native English speaker, there will definitely be some things you will struggle with and new concepts you are not familiar with. Polish has 7 cases, is a gendered language, and have some difficult sounds to distinguish that us linguistics nerds call "sibilant contrasts" (in Polish, /s/ /z/ /ɕ/ /ʑ/ and /ʂ/ /ʐ/).
But, I want you to consider something. If you are learning a language because it is easy or is the easiest out of the bunch, are you really going to be motivated to stick with it? Whether or not a language is easy should have no bearing on whether or not you want to learn it. If you have interest, pursue it! You don't need justification.
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