craic_monster 1 | 44 19 Jul 2008 / #1Obviously, one of the best ways of really learning a language is to talk to native speakers. But how?Where I live, there are quite a few Poles and in theory it should be easy enough to get talking. But the reality is a little bit different, as most Poles seem to do their drinking at home, rather than in the local bars.That rules out any chance of a friendly conversation over a pint or two.There are alternatives, but they're potentially dodgy. One is to hang around the “speciality foods” section in the local supermarket, until someone who sounds potentially Polish comes along.Then, as they reach for their pickled gherkins, you could say “Przeprasham, gdzie jest barszcz?”Or you could accidentally bump into them with your trolley and say “Pzykro mi,” in the hope that it might spark a scintillating conversation.Both strategies are fraught with danger. For all I know, asking where the barszcz is might have unhealthy – even seedy – overtones in Polish. And an overzealous bump with the trolley could lead to a stream of fluent Polish that's beyond the comprehension of a learner. Or worse.An alternative might be to hang around the car park, looking for vehicles with Polish number plates, sidle up and ask for directions to the railway station. Which would seem strange – a red-haired and obviously Irish local asking a foreigner for directions.Things are complicated yet further in that some foreign guests are from Lithuania and don't appear to embrace their fellow east Europeans with the warmth I'd expected. (My neighbour, from Lithuania, explained that his friend hated the Poles – but he couldn't quite remember why.)My ear is not yet attuned to the linguistic niceties of Slavic/Baltic pronunciation, and there is indeed a great danger that in my excitement at hearing a “sz”-type sound I might mistakenly try out the barszcz strategy on someone who could regard my attempt to nurture cross-cultural understanding as a national insult.So, I guess I'm asking if anyone can come up with risk-free methodologies that could initiate potentially positive encounters with real Poles.Everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous, will be given careful consideration.Seriously, though, it's strange to think that there is much Polish around me yet it's hard to access real native-speakers. It's all a little different from learning French at school because you don't really expect to be able to use it for real until you go to France.Given the potential opportunities at home, my expectations for Polish are different.Anyway, I await improvements on the “Gdzie jest barszcz?” strategy.