August 3, 2011 | Polish

Polish or Perish

I am trying hard, but I am still remarkably lame.

For the past two silent weeks, I have been studying away. That I haven’t written here is due not to a lack of enthusiasm or effort, but to arm pain from too much computer work. I needed a typing break.

Polish Newspapers: Ubiquitous in New York!

Polish Newspapers: Ubiquitous in New York!

Last week I learned that one can buy a Polish newspaper mere steps from my front door, and on the next block, and probably on the next block after that. Amazing!

I spent hours on Rosetta Stone yesterday. Which unfortunately involves mouse-clicking, and did start to bother my arms. But I really wanted to do it, so I did it anyway.

Since my last entry here, I have made my way through most of the second level of Rosetta Stone, redone 25 Pimsleur lessons, almost finished Dana Bielec’s Basic Polish Grammar, and made random small talk with Polish people.

There is a monumental gap between what I now understand about Polish grammar (which ain’t all that great anyway), and the Polish I am able to conjure up at a moment’s notice for conversation. The obstacle? Yes, the same cases that have been plaguing me. Although I have made my way through almost all the cases now—nominative, accusative, instrumental, locative, etc.—they are swimming around in my head like angry, confused sharks consuming vocabulary as quickly as I learn it.

The fact that words constantly change form depending on how they are used in a sentence definitely makes vocabulary acquisition more difficult. My ability to understand increasingly complex sentences improves, while my troubles conjuring up certain very basic sentences persist.

I think I am a major disappointment to the Polish women who work at my favorite coffee shop. It is kind of sad, but also pretty funny. I still have four weeks to redeem myself. Don’t think I am depressed. I am stunned, but amused. 

I have finally succeeded at getting a Polish contractor I see a lot in our building to stop talking to me in English whenever I address him in Polish. Now he replies in Polish. This is an accomplishment. So I have been accumulating more small talk in my brain for the next time our paths cross.

My main goal right now is to finish my basic Polish grammar book so I can move on to the crisp new intermediate book waiting on my shelf. But the further I get in the basic book, the slower I go. My pace is now glacial.

I have considered the causes. One is that I am expected to know more grammar with each new chapter and grammar exercise, but I don’t really know it know it. So a lot of exercises become major research projects, in which I troll chapters looking for the information I need to finish each translated Polish sentence, or even just fill in a tiny little blank.

Another thing is, checking your answers in Polish is time-consuming! I have to proofread words like wszystkie to make sure I spelled them right, and combing through all those consonants is no easy feat. No skimming possible, that’s for sure.

Earlier today, I came across a cool resource,, the “world’s largest flashcard library,” according to the site. I went through some Polish cards, but am not up to more mouse-clicking at the moment. There are many languages there in case people are interested!

Comments (6)

luba • Posted on Sat, August 06, 2011 - 11:59 pm EST

Wow, there is also a newspaper in Hebrew in that photo!

Katherine • Posted on Fri, August 12, 2011 - 9:05 am EST

You bring up a good point, it is very difficult to commit different cases to memory.  Especially if your native language does not really use them. I find that especially is Slavic languages, the use of a particular case with a certain verb or situation is not always logical.  You simply have to memorize it.  I have never really found a good method for learning cases.  I find it’s the area I still am most likely to make mistake, even after hundreds of hours of grammar exercises!

nemygreheri • Posted on Sun, October 14, 2012 - 10:37 am EST

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nemygreheri • Posted on Thu, October 18, 2012 - 6:59 am EST

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Joe • Posted on Fri, May 23, 2014 - 2:30 am EST

At least you should be happy that Polish does not have 15 cases like Finnish does.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, May 23, 2014 - 10:02 am EST

So true, Joe. And yet, the reality of Finnish feels like a big fat dare to me…I listened to a little on my iPhone the other day.

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