So you think Polish is hard?

The truth must finally come out. I’ve heard enough of this utter rubbish about how difficult Polish is. If you’ve tried to learn Polish and failed to achieve decent levels of communication and understanding  this means you're either not trying hard enough or are just plain stupid. You can’t just say English is easier, because it isn’t! Sure there are grammatical concepts in Polish that are absent in English but don’t forget this works both ways.

Although some grammar books claim there are 16 tenses in English this isn’t true. It doesn’t make it any easier though as there are two tenses (present and past), four aspects (simple, progressive – also referred to as continuous, perfect and perfect-progressive). This is a formidable combination for foreigners, difficult enough to confuse us along with the very unclear rules surrounding the tense usage. I mean…. There are differences even between BrE and AmE as far as tenses go so are we supposed to get the right ones? Ugh. Now compare that with Polish: three tenses (present, past and future – couldn’t be any more obvious, right?) and two aspects (imperfective and perfective – pretty straightforward and all it takes is to learn the correct verb forms). We like it easy, don’t we?

Foreigners cringe when they hear about seven cases in Polish and I agree this can be a nightmare to grasp for a native speaker of a language that lacks this concept but all it means is that you’ll need to make an extra effort and pay a bit more attention to it while learning. On the bright side Polish has no articles. YES! YES! YES! (I hate articles in English and even though I’m super fluent I still make mistakes when using them).

Stop moaning. People always point to something difficult in every language and the sad ones use it as an excuse for not learning it. Fail! Fail! Fail! What I hate even more are Polish people spreading these rumours about how difficult our language is. No, it isn’t! Put this silly point of national pride behind you. The fact we have lots of consonants is not a problem, we are all humans and if my speech organs are capable of articulating something, yours are too no matter where you come from. I might have struggled with my th in English but here I am pronouncing it like a native. Make the effort! Polish, being almost fully phonetic, is actually easier than English, if you slowly pronounce each and every single letter in a word you’ll pronounce it right (NEVER the case in English, in fact even native English speakers don’t know how to pronounce certain words e.g. schedule).

 No language is hard. Depending on your native language, some languages can be easier for you. However, it doesn’t make them easy for everybody. I would probably find Czech much easier than English and similarly if you’re a native English speaker you will find German easier than Polish.  Lastly, I wanted to say it’s a pleasure to learn Polish. Why? Because most Poles you meet when you come here will be amazed to see you’ve made the effort to try to speak Polish (even if only a little Polish). We’re quite nice chaps, really!

So…. What are you still doing? Get back to studying Polish. I don’t want to see you back around here again until you’ve learnt some more. Good luck!


  1. I'm afraid you aren't right. I've recently had an opportunity to teach an American our beautiful language and believe me it's more difficult than digging :) Why? Maybe the pronunciation is equally complicated as ours but the grammar can discourage everybody. Plus, one but maybe crucial disadvantage: Polish is used only by native speakers, so you always are 'different' talking in this language. Speaking English you can meet other non-native speakers so your fear of making mistakes is not so great. Thus, a chance of speaking Polish fluently is close to zero, in case of English you may be hopeful :)

  2. Hi Gibon and thank you for your contribution. Like I previously explained the grammar might seem difficult to speakers of languages in which it differs greatly – in this case, English. Bear in mind that if you were to teach somebody who’s Czech or even Russian they wouldn’t struggle as much… You can’t therefore say “this language is difficult and this isn’t” because it's such a subjective thing. I disagree when you say that Polish is only used by natives. Having lived in the UK I’ve met several British people trying to learn Polish. It really just makes more sense to them than learning French or even Spanish considering how many more Polish people they are likely to meet in everyday life. Moreover, recently Poland is increasingly turning into a destination for immigrants as well. Sure we don’t have them as many as the UK but I believe that due to our prominence over other eastern European countries we might become a hot spot for migration. This will happen so I hope you’re prepared!

  3. I agree. You can almost never say that one language is easy or difficult on an absolute scale. It always depends on which languages you already know. For example, I am currently studying Finnish and I think it is the easiest language that I have ever learnt. It does have 15 cases, but they are almost the same as the 14 cases in Estonian, my mother tongue.

    But being proud about the difficulty of one's native language is not something that is specific to Poles. Estonians, Finns, Russians, Chinese - pretty much everybody I have met believe that their language is one of the most difficult in the world :)

  4. Hi Kaur and thanks for your contribution. Good luck with your Finnish, keep up the good work!

  5. The triumph of English

  6. Hey Ewi! I think that you mix something up in your definition of "hard".

    First of all, it is quite a subjective term and thus totally free for everyone in terms of usage.
    If somebody has bigger trouble with learning polish than with other languages, perhaps because of the pronunciation or for whatever reason, it is definately harder for her/him. Period.

    I think that you talk about prejudices against your language, and that some people call it "hard" without investing the necessary time and effort. That is just plain ignorant imo, and I understand your indisposition in that regard.

    I am with you when you say that generally languages are not comparable, since different languages transport different cultures. And comparing differnent cultures? Sure..

    So I do not see any discrepancy between your blog and the answer from j123, you just did not make clear enough what you meant.

    I enjoyed your thoughts on the topic nonetheless, keep it up!

  7. Hi David! It’s a pleasure to hear from you. I couldn’t agree with you more – I also said that when speaking about different languages the reference point is your own native language, this will indeed give you your own personal perspective. Perhaps I didn’t stress it enough in my post, however, this wasn’t the main point of what I was trying to say. There’s a big difference between considering something difficult and using it as an excuse.

  8. "There’s a big difference between considering something difficult and using it as an excuse."

    Exactly, that is the point.
    And if you wrote that sentence into your blog, I am quite sure that Gibon would have had no reason not to agree with you.

    Just read a bit through this site, and I like it! Nice job, but must have taken some hours ;)

  9. My opinion is: Polish is hard, English is easier. Why? Because we have many "Englishes" British, American etc plus this one which is probably most popular: English used by non-native speakers. Regardless of whether you say she have or she has you will be understandable and probably nobody will correct you. In effect, you'll gain confidence and without it acquisition of a language is almost impossible. Try other language, Slavic one or German, you'll meet a native speaker and a barrier'll be huge sometimes impossible to overcome. Obviously, I mean aspiration to achieve a level compared to C1 and adults as a situation with kids is completely different. So, I have still had the same opinion: English is easier than less popular languages among them my Polish,

  10. @David Thanks! I started English Focused in May 2010... I love writing for it so those hours weren't wasted. You know where to find the subscribe button... don't you?!

  11. @j123 Your argument isn't valid, as one could say in Polish "on mieć" rather than "on ma" and they'll also be understood. Somebody might correct them, somebody might not. I've been corrected many times by native English speakers, often in a mean way, however, I never gave up and it helped me to achieve the level of English I speak today. Let me ask you this question... if you meet a Czech or Slovak who never heard English and never heard Polish which language do you think they will naturally acquire more easily? Certainly the answer is Polish due to the similarities between it and their native tongue.

  12. @Gibon
    You too mix something up imo.
    According to your last post, you do not refer to the language itself, but to the level necessary to be understood and accepted in certian (non-native) situations.

    And I think you are right! Most likely you will find more non-native English speaker than non-native Polish speaker, so the overall level will be lower on average (please mind the "on average", I know that there are some cases where this does not apply to, but in general you are pretty safe with this statement)

    So again:
    As far as I understood your last post, you talk about the general accepted level of English as a foreign language, which might be quite low compared to Polish as a foreign language, simply because English is influenced more because of the bigger ammount of non-native speakers. Right?

    Of course I can't speak about the Polish language, but in German we that exact thing happening.

    I still think that you are talking at cross purposes.

    ps: What an interesting discussion! I will try to get some more people into this.

  13. @David
    Maybe I'm talking at cross purposes but only a bit :) Achieving a level which allows you to communicate without any stress seems me to be a key point in the process of studying. If you can do it, next steps are easier because your motivation is growing. A problem is with reaching this level, about B2 in practice. Some people lost because couldn't do it. Due to this, English, which may (may!) be easier than many others up to B2 is both popular and acceptable around the world (of course there are many other reasons). Compare your German to English taking certificates into account. B2 = FCE and Zertifikat Deutsch fur Beruf, I've recently took the last one and believe me my German is much more poor than English when I did it. Maybe it's only my own experience but I know many people who have similar opinions. Not surprisingly, you can find in Poland a professional English teacher (non native) without any problem but finding German one isn't so easy. The majority of my former students spent 3-4 years at school learning by heart: eine, einen, der des etc. and after these years they could go to shop, buy goods etc. Discussing more serious question was rather impossible.
    Therefore, my view is: there are easier and more difficult languages. Apart from gift and diligence, a language family is important, however, an opinion, very popular in my country, that Spanish is easier than French (the same family) appears to be reasonable.
    Discussion is worth continuing :)

  14. Hmmm, yes and no. When I started to learn Polish, I got happier and happier: this was a systematic language, learn the rules and you were at least half way there (the vocabulary being the other half). But as I got further, I realized that Polish has a lot more exceptions to those rules than I'd bargained for.
    Still, when it comes to spelling and pronunciation, you're dead on. Once I learned what the difference was between sz and ś and ż and ź, it wasn't that hard.
    I am glad I already speak German, that gives me an edge on case inflections. Just goes to show, the more languages you speak, the easier it gets to learn new ones.

  15. Not all of us are either lazy or stupid. In my experience, the difficulty in learning Polish is a lack of resources. English is easier because there are good learner's dictionaries, tons of material online, lots of good course books, and graded readers. Learning English has become a very cushy experience.

    Polish is another matter. From a pedagogic standpoint, the materials that are available for learners of Polish are not good at all. There isn't even a good learner's dictionary like CALD. Perhaps you should rename and retarget your website? There are certainly tons of sites out there for those who want to learn English on their own via the web. What's missing are sites targeted at people who want to learn Polish.

    A native polish speaker could make a great deal of progress by simply copying the format of existing ELT sites like:

  16. Hi Ewelina!

    I agree completely!

    I beleive all languages are equally hard -- which is to say hard, because language learning is hard work! But sometimes when we already know a similar language, learning it can be a little easier.

    I have already written about how Polish isn't as hard as people make it out to be. I even spoke about it in Polish in a video, where I make copious mistakes. :-)

    Also to your point about the number of tenses in English: your counting of the tenses is absolutely valid. However, counting 16 tenses is not false -- it's just another school of linguist thought. Although, I'm sure you already know more about this than me -- I think I saw somewhere you said you studied linguistics at university?

    The school of thought you prefer is more popular in Poland (and possibly the rest of Europe) where as the other is more popular here in the USA. I'm not a linguist so I don't really perfer either counting, but I believe they are both valid. :-)

    Anyway, great article! Everyone should stop complaining that language X is too hard and just get to work! :-) That's the only way to ever get there.

    Best regards,

  17. You've not mentioned the fact there are a host more cultural references (and reasons) for people to learn English. The best English speakers in Poland are the ones who consume the most amount of media.

    From my opinion (12 months learning Polish and 10 months teaching English) effort is important, but the critical factor is attitude and approach. You can work as hard as you like but if you don't have the right attitude then you won't learn: Consume in bite size chunks, celebrate small victories, map your progress against a structure, realise that you never fail as long as you are trying, consume in all possible ways and above all understand that learning a language is a lifelong commitment... and you are walking on the road to linguistic success.

  18. David, strictly speaking what I study is a combination of English literary studies, English history and linguistics. As for defining English as a language with 16 tenses; I think it's not as much of a mistake as it is a simplified way to explain grammatical aspects to beginners. I have already complimented you on your Polish in the past and I'd certainly recommend your blog to anyone who's trying to learn Polish too. Thank you for your contribution.

    Paddy, I definitely agree, attitude is crucial, perhaps I haven't emphasised it enough, so thank you for your contribution.

  19. I found this a really helpful perspective on language acquisition.
    I'm a native English speaker and learned German for a while. I picked it at school because the other option offered, French, had gendered nouns. Imagine my horror when I found out German was even more complicated in that respect! I dropped it because I picked it for the wrong reasons.

    But the point that every language has its own unique rules that contrast to the seemingly strange rules of English and I'll just have to get over that whichever one I choose, so I could maybe think about ones that are grammatically similar to English, but most importantly pick the one I like because there's no 'perfect' language and the rules aren't arbitrary just because they seem unintuitive depending on one's tacit knowledge of their own native language. So, thanks!