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"Gdzie jest barszcz?" How do I get talking Polish with real Poles?


craic_monster 1 | 44  
19 Jul 2008 /  #1
Obviously, 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.
Polonius3 994 | 12,380  
20 Jul 2008 /  #2
Although not always feasible, the very best way to learn spoken Polish is to get yourself a Polish, non-English-speaking GF or (if you're a female) BF. No, that's no joke. There are two reasons why this actually works: communication and psychology. The need to communicate when going places, trying to swap ideas and doing things together will force you to try to absorb the language, much the way a child does through exposure. Secondly, most people do not want to come off in front of their BF or GF as a total dolt, so there is great incentive to concentrate, be attentive and absorptive.

The other way is a total-immersion language school such as Berlitz. Pricey and time-consuming, yes, but it woks. Even several weeks of Polish 6-8 hours a day in various situations, where you don't even get the butter at lunch if you don't say "Poproszę masło" will give you a good foundation to build upon. There are also more intensive, longer-lasting courses geared to the learner's possibilities.
Michal - | 1,865  
20 Jul 2008 /  #3
iven the potential opportunities at home, my expectations for Polish are different.

Come around to my house any Thursday morning-the kitchen is full of them, so much so that I escape upstairs as quick as I can after coming in from work! In not being able to meet them and talk to them, I think, is if anything, a positive point. I have met some Lithuanians and they seem to be much nicer than the boring Poles. Eupoe has many races and you should spread out your wings. There are plenty of much more colourful people around than the Poles to talk to.
miranda  
20 Jul 2008 /  #4
maybe they play soccer and you can join their team or offer some of them free English lessons.
Keith 2 | 14  
20 Jul 2008 /  #5
I used to help out with a local Polish community group. They would meet socially every week and occasionally go on trips etc. I would often just sit and listen to the conversations and try and pick up what I could - it was great for me to hear 'proper' Polish being spoken rather than the text in a book. Maybe you could check with your nearest library or college, they might know of something similar in your area and you could volunteer to help.
PolskaDoll 28 | 2,099  
20 Jul 2008 /  #6
I used to help out with a local Polish community group.

That's a good idea indeed. There are many ways you can help out at places like that, including helping people who are learning English.

"speciality foods" section in the local supermarket, until someone who sounds potentially Polish comes along.

lol - you can try that although it's my experience that the people who hit the "speciality food" are not usually Polish but natives :)

You could find out where your local Polish shop is and nip in there, get chatting with the people in there and explain that you want to submerge yourself more in the Polish community and you are learning the language. They should be able to help you with local Polish clubs etc (especially if the shop has been there a while).

You could also tell us where you are located and we might be able to help you further ;)
Switezianka - | 463  
21 Jul 2008 /  #7
"Looking for a Polish native speaker for conversations and language learning on the beginner level. Price under negotiation."
Kowalski 7 | 621  
21 Jul 2008 /  #8
I've been once approached by polish language learner and frankly had no patience to go on as conversation was on so basic level. It was hard to focus for me and my partner was happy to understand or communicate simple messages - good for him.

"this is green and this is blue and I am tall" - yes, yes.
OP craic_monster 1 | 44  
22 Jul 2008 /  #9
Hi,

I see what you're saying, Kowalski. It's not fair to treat native speakers of any language as a resource to be tapped when the mood takes you. The supermarket is not a classroom.

There's another underlying point there. You need to have a better-than-basic grasp of the language to become 'worth' talking to. Yet you can't get that until you've been talking to those you want to talk to. If you know what I mean!

I personally have no trouble in helping out someone who wants to learn my language, but that's just me. I love languages. My first language is Irish and I'm delighted to help people who want to learn a bit - but that's probably because I really want to spread the word and help promote what is my native language.

There are some good ideas in the thread, though. I suppose trying to help out in the Polish community, as Keith says, would be a very good way of learning some Polish and doing a little for cross-community understanding at the same time. That makes it a two-way process. Everyone benefits.

Switezianka, that's an excellent idea. I might just do that, although I'd be a little worried about crank calls from non-Polish speakers wanting to take the p**s. I could use a temporary SIM card to get around that problem though.

I think PolskaDoll's right about the 'natives' hitting the specialty food sections and not the Poles. When I'm in the supermarket I see people spending so much time looking at the packets that they simply can't be Polish!

Your Sklep Polski idea is a good one, though. I think there's one in my town and, if so, I'll check it out. BTW, there is one in Dublin and when I was there last week I did actually go in. Guess what I bought?

I don't know if I can get in contact with you directly to tell you precisely where I live because I never like to give out too much information on a message board which can be read by everyone but, as a rough idea, I'm in the northern part of County Armagh, which is in Northern Ireland.

As a complete aside, I'm going to a multi-cultural day (food-tasting, national dancing and so on) tomorrow. I asked the guy who's organising it if there would be Poles there.

There was a bit of confusion because the Irish words for Poles and police sound very similar and he was clearly wondering why anyone would want to know if the police would be attending a food-tasting event!

He said there wouldn't be any (Poles - not police!) but thought it was an excellent idea and he says he'll make sure there will be next year.

I hope I've done just a little to help promote Polish culture in Northern Ireland...
Keith 2 | 14  
23 Jul 2008 /  #10
I've been once approached by polish language learner and frankly had no patience to go on as conversation.

This is understandable. I tried speaking to a few Polish people in various places like the local Polish shop, in the street etc and they were definitely humouring me, quite rightly. (yes, you can say 'dzien dobry', well done...)

The good thing about helping out the Polish group was that it was very much two-way. They were learning as much from me as I was from them. They loved practising their english on me and were happy to point out all my mistakes (curse your instrumental case...) What I found useful was hearing the difference between 'book-learning' and the way Polish is really spoken, it helped me to sound a bit more 'natural' in my conversation.
OP craic_monster 1 | 44  
8 Aug 2008 /  #11
Just as an update on my thread, I've recently met a delightful Polish family who have been wonderfully helpful and friendly. They really are lovely people and have given me a huge amount of encouragement.

Unfortunately (for me, but probably not for them), they're moving on. Piotr (the son) and his girlfriend (Kasia) are going back to Lublin, while his parents, Piotr and Lucy, are going to Nottingham in England.

I'm sad because they're going so soon, but I'm sad because of something else as well. Piotr Senior (I almost called him Stary Piotr the first time I met him but thought this might sound insulting! Is it?) is a doctor and Lucy is a lawyer.

Yet Lucy is here in Northern Ireland, working in a department store and on her feet eight hours a day. There's nothing wrong with working in a department store but I couldn't believe that someone with her training is doing that.

She told me that she hopes she might get "something a little bit better" in Nottingham.

I do hope that Poland gets itself sorted out economically so that people like them can get properly paid to do the jobs that they trained so hard for.

BTW, I will probably (if I'm allowed to) start a new thread to ask Poles "over here" what they did in Poland and what they're doing now.

Anyway, Piotr (nie Stary Piotr!) will be going back to Lublin with a little reminder of Northern Ireland - Bushmills, the oldest whiskey in the world.
PolskaDoll 28 | 2,099  
8 Aug 2008 /  #12
Just as an update on my thread, I've recently met a delightful Polish family who have been wonderfully helpful and friendly. They really are lovely people and have given me a huge amount of encouragement.

That's good news that. Although not such good news that they will be moving away. How did you get around to meeting them in the first place though?

There is, of course, nothing to stop you keeping in touch with Piotr and Kasia and Piotr and Lucy in there respective new places...

Your idea for a thread, it could work. Only if people want to give up that information. I could probably give some answers on behalf of some of my Polish friends (not members of PF!) which might or might not be interesting... :)
OP craic_monster 1 | 44  
8 Aug 2008 /  #13
How did you get around to meeting them in the first place though?

Not by asking "Gdzie jest barszcz?" They're really quiet people but a letter was mis-delivered to my dad's house and he took it across the road to them and started chatting.

They were so quiet that you would never have known what language they spoke or where they were from so I reckon it was a happy combination of circumstances.

Of course you're right - I can get their email addresses and keep in touch.

Thanks for the positive feedback on the thread idea. If it's ok with you I'll launch it next week. What's the best forum for it d'you think?

Cześć,

Jan

PS - PolskaDoll, let me know if it's OK for me to PM you. I know I can, but I always prefer to ask permission first.
HelenaWojtczak 28 | 177  
9 Aug 2008 /  #14
Dear Jan

I know what you mean. I see Polish number-plated cars in my own street, for goodness' sake, as well as the car park at Lidl. I overhear Poles talking in the changing rooms of the swimming pool. But how to make friends with them. Despite my name, I don't have any Polish friends here.

Helena
OP craic_monster 1 | 44  
10 Aug 2008 /  #15
Hi Helena,

I know what you mean. Even if you know they speak Polish, you can hardly walk up to them, smile and say "Przepraszam, czy Pan/Pani mówi po Polsku?"

I always have to stop myself from doing that!

Jan

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