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Need Advice On Polish-English language barrier (my Polish boyfriend and his family)

MinaD 1 | 25
24 Apr 2011 #1
Hey everyone!
I'm Mina and I'm Romanian/Irish. Before I met my wonderful Polish boyfriend, I knew very little of the Polish language or culture. When I met Lukasz, we got on excellently and his grasp of English was admirable!

There seemed to be no problem regarding culture difference or otherwise until we started spending ALOT of time with his wonderful parents who are delightful and extremely hospitable. They speak VERY little English and I would so love to communicate with them. Lukasz often leaves me alone with them for hours at a time and there is absolutely no conversation between us. I wish it could be different but i always need him at my side to translate for me and I feel quite helpless when he is not around. We also spend alot of time with other elatives and friends of his, all of whom are Polish. They are also sweet people but I feel very left out when they converse and laugh in Polish and i feel like quite the alien. Lukasz says he understands my predicament but he continues talking in front of me in Polish to Polish people who are fully fluent...

Ive tried learning Polish and know basic words and phrases but yet not enough for my liking but my Latin tongue is finding the pronounciation very difficult and different to what I'm used to. I've even tried teaching his mother English but she was never very bothered and gave up many times. I feel very very frustrated!

I love my man and we are planning on getting engaged but I cant imagine living for the rest of my life, unable to converse with my inlaws and the rest of his family and some friends.

Any idea what i should do??

Thank you :)
pawian 223 | 24,567
24 Apr 2011 #2
Esperanto might help.
Esperanto is the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language. Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto (Esperanto translates as - one who hopes), the pseudonym under which L. L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, in 1887. Zamenhof's goal was to create an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language that would foster peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages.
scottie1113 7 | 898
24 Apr 2011 #3
Esperanto is useless. Just got a begiining Polish book like Hurra Po Polsku or czesc jak sie masz. start studying, speak Polish as often as you can, ask Lukasz to help, and in 20 years you'll be able to order a beer in a bar. :) Just kidding. There's a book: 301 Polish verbs that's also very good. Be patient. Polish is a difficult language to learn.
JonnyM 11 | 2,611
24 Apr 2011 #4
Esperanto is useless.

Yes. Useless. Though there is some evidence that it can benefit children who learn it.

The book you mention, Hurrah po polsku is good. I know quite a few French and Spanish people who speak Polish. All have problems with pronunciation (especially the French) but perseverance eventually pays off. The OP shouldn't give up.
OP MinaD 1 | 25
24 Apr 2011 #5
Esperanto wont help at all, they cant speak it and im having enough difficulty with Polish :/
It would also be nice if they could make more of an effort to learn English to be honest. They have been living and working here for five years and their English is worse than my Polish :/

Also when I speak Polish, Lukasz laughs at me and it discourages me so I give up. Also, he has made no effort to communicate with my Romanian Mum...urggh, tricky topic eh?
rozumiemnic 8 | 3,854
24 Apr 2011 #6
tricky topic

linguistic minefield Mina..:)
Don't you mind when your bf leaves you alone for hours with people with whom you cannot communicate?
Why don't you just tell him you have something else to do in that time? Also if your bf laughs at you when u try to speak Polish why u don't tell him to STFU?

Also why don't you suggest that his parents go to fekkin English lessons if they live and work in Eire?
Apart from that, just keep at it with the POlish, keep listening and trying to join the convo and it will get easier I am sure.
southern 74 | 7,074
24 Apr 2011 #7
Just pick up the sounds.Slavic languages are very expressive sound based.
OP MinaD 1 | 25
24 Apr 2011 #8
Hey there :)
Yes, of course I do mind when he leaves me for ages, there was a barbeque last week, with about nine of us and he disapeared for about an hour while i was sitting there, twiddling my thumbs while his parents and friends laughed together. His mum, Alina tried to cheer me up but didnt have the language capacity to do it. When Lukasz came back, i heard her shouting at him, telling him to go back to me and stop leaving me alone!

And I dont want to seem ignorant to his parents, when I dont visit them everyday with Lukasz, they are always enquiring, wondering what Im doing and why Im not there :/

And yes, I have yelled at his for teasing me, but he just doesnt understand how I feel. When we are with his friends and they are joking in Polish, I keep asking him to translate for me but he forgets alot :/

And his parents wont ever get lessons, they only hang out with fellow Poles and shop only in Polish shops...They are working here but rarely communicate with Irish people :/

Wish it were this easy, my Boyfriend says Polish is one of the hardest languages-I am already fluent in 6 and never had any trouble. This one seems too bloody hard for me.

His parents asked us if we had kids, what language would they speak. I didnt know what to say. I wouldnt like my kids speaking a language that I cant. I would feel even more alienated. Im already living 180 km from home, in a strange town. I moved here to be with my man and the only people I know here are Polish :/ I really wish it was easier to communicate
JustysiaS 13 | 2,238
24 Apr 2011 #9
No offence but your boyfriend doesn't really sound that bothered about the fact that you're struggling with this, especially that he doesn't try to communicate with your mum. Sit down with him and tell him that something has to be done, you're in this together, why can't he help you instead of laughing at you? Is leaving you alone with his family for hours at a time his idea of helping you learn? How can people who live in a foreign country for several years not know even the basics of its language anyway, it's out of order. Tell him that if you guys are planning to be together and get engaged you need to do things properly, he helps you learn Polish and you help him learn Romanian or he sits there with you and translates so that you can have a conversation with his family. Polish is a very difficult language to learn for a foreigner but it is not impossible, you just have to keep practising and who's better to practice with than Lukasz? Browse through this forum, plenty of good tips and a lot of people to help.
OP MinaD 1 | 25
24 Apr 2011 #10
Thank you Justysia, thats very helpful!! :)
Yes you are right, we have argued about this but he never really gets worked up. When we are in the kitchen with his mum, he gets up to go get something from the shop or help his dad with work and keeps mouthing at me to stay with his mum and keeps saying "talk to her!" but I cant do that!! I keep telling him how i feel but he does little to help :/

Hopefully the situation will improve but my mans sister in law studied English in college and yet keeps saying polish greetings to me or just ignores me outright...I think his family would much prefer if i were Polish ;/
Seanus 15 | 19,672
24 Apr 2011 #11
Then just use English with them, it's your God-given right to do so. English is a world language. What, they would rather you spoke Romanian? I don't think so somehow.
rozumiemnic 8 | 3,854
24 Apr 2011 #12
yay seanus!
yeh your'e in a fekin English speaking country.....would Seanus expect his woman and her family to learn English????
OP MinaD 1 | 25
24 Apr 2011 #13
I try but they stare at me for quite a few minutes, not getting what Im trying to ask :/
Then i try to break down the phrase to simpler langauge and they still dont understand. I wish they atleast made more of an effort becasue I know that I am!
Seanus 15 | 19,672
24 Apr 2011 #14
Precisely! I've made the effort to learn Polish both for myself and for others. It would make no sense whatsoever to speak English to them. That really bugs me about some Polish people. They just expect you to speak Polish when they travel. I've seen it on Itaka tours to the Balkans and Baltics. They just assume sufficient familiarity of their natives with the language. I was irritated by that!

English, as I see it in the case above, is an ideal compromise language. If they can't use it then it's 'do widzenia, bitches'.
southern 74 | 7,074
24 Apr 2011 #15
Get some method like ''teach yourself polish.''Take a slownik and look at common words.Slavs are very helpful when you try to learn their language they tell you everything you need to know and are very patient.
gumishu 15 | 6,184
25 Apr 2011 #16
hi Mina

maybe you should try learning Polish from someone on skype - there are offers to teach Polish for English there
also trying to read Polish helps very much - you should start with simple things - perhaps you can find some children's books on ebay or (which is ebay's equivallent in Poland)

just found it - a recent Polish skype teaching offer on these forums Polish lessons on skype.
JustysiaS 13 | 2,238
26 Apr 2011 #17
Whenever I take my boyfriend to Poland I sit there and translate as they go (helps me with my English, translating like that is like the next level and I always try to improve myself too ;). I would never leave him alone like that, it's just plain rude. My ex did that to me notoriously, wandered off with his brother and I was stuck in the house with his sister or nieces for hours and he didn't see what the problem was, I speak English so why am I complaining right.

I suppose it all depends on the people, you can tell when they're sincere even if you can't communicate, or if they just blatantly don't like you. I don't think it would matter to them whether you were Polish or not, it would be equally uncomfortable to sit there with your boyfriends family and try to make small talk about the weather for 4 hours... You see how it is now before you guys get any more serious, it should be kind of a red flag right there, the bloke should get interested instead of giving you attitude and acting like a tw*t. It's probably one of the most serious issues in relationships between people who come from different countries, after a while their family comes into the picture and obviously you want to get on with them as well, and that's where you need your other half most. They can't just wander off and expect you to take care of yourself, you are a guest in their family home and they should be there by your side, not out because they have better things to do. Why the hell bring you there in the first place, for decoration? Makes you feel a bit like you're tagging along rather than being a part of something important doesn't it.

By all means learning a new, very difficult foreign language is a great challenge, but I think in your case you feel like you have to learn rather than want to and it'll make it harder. Whether the boyfriend appreciates your efforts or not is a completely different matter but I have a feeling he will just take it for granted, after all you chose to be with him so it's up to you if you wanna learn Polish or not, you're on your own. Yes yes, you are not getting married (if you ever decide to) to his family but to him, but for god's sake, that's not how you treat the person you're supposed to love and want to be with forever. Think about it.

(been there, done it, got a t-shirt lol)
Patrycja19 62 | 2,688
26 Apr 2011 #18
They can't just wander off and expect you to take care of yourself, you are a guest in their family home and they should be there by your side, not out because they have better things to do. Why the hell bring you there in the first place, for decoration? Makes you feel a bit like you're tagging along rather than being a part of something important doesn't it.

extremely well said justy, I think your right.

and with that I am signing off cause I am tired :)
17 May 2011 #19
ok i'm an American living in PL and i too find Polish quite challenging...the grammar more than pronounciation....but regardless, I do try when I can and when I have no choice. But, your boyfriend and his family should definately make an effort on their part to speak ur language. I mean, would it REALLY hurt some Polish people to speak more English and stop being so lazy? I noticed here that a lot of people are scared to try new things and are very STUCK in their strange ways sometimes. (nothing to be embarassed of but common...give something new a try..would it really kill you?? Especially something educational.) I will never understand why more Poles don't speak proper English or at least TRY!!! (some do, but more should). You shouldnt have to feel like an asshole because other people lack social skills or don't want to try furthering their education (i don't care how old they are). English is the universal language and i believe everyone (no matter where the heck u are) should at least make an effort. I feel for you!!
tabrett 2 | 26
17 May 2011 #20
English is the universal language and i believe everyone (no matter where the heck u are) should at least make an effort.

Are you saying that people should make an effort if an English person suddenly becomes part of their lives? Or just in general everyone in the world should make an effort to learn English?
18 May 2011 #21
In principal, I agree that when visiting (certainly, living in!!!) another country, it should be an imperative of common respect to make every effort to communicate as well as one possibly can in the language of the host country.

However, I do find it somehwat arrogant that English, particularly American, speakers insist that everyone, even in the country visited, should be able to switch to English at the drop of a hat, as soon as an American shows up at their doorstep-:)

The latter is not only unrealistic, it's not equitable. Do we Americans switch to Polish, German, Russian etc.. when visitors, including even some visiting dignitaries, come to the US? Aside from Washington functions hinging on international diplomacy, most of us are simply too darned lazy to give a hoot about any culture other than our own! It's tough to get our highschoolers to stagger through first-year Spanish, much less German, Russian or Chinese.

English may be the 'universal language', but even that bares qualifiying. At conferences, a case can surely be made for a single tongue to unite all attendees. Today, it's English. In former times, Latin and occasionally German, more often than not, French.

Back to MinaD. Bless your heart for wanting to learn Polish for someone you care about. MORE POWER TO YOU.

TypoLOL "......even that bears qualifying." to bear = to carry, hold
to bare = to expose, lay in plain sight
sleeping_beauty 1 | 25
7 Jun 2011 #22
Any idea what i should do??


I just moved to Poland 5 days ago and believe or not, my mother in law expecting me to learn Polish in just very short time. Yeah, its quite funny. She said the friend of my husband living in Ireland learned how to speak English after living there. My husband said, "Mom, my wife just here for the past 5 days, my friend is living in Ireland for 5 years now!!!" His Mom said "She must learn Polish as soon as possible."

I told to my husband " Ok, tell to your Mom that in my free time and while you are at work, I will work on it. I will go out and wonder, with my book and my IPOD, and I will find a quite place to learn. Is that's fine for you my beloved husband?" He just looked at me :)

My husband bought me this book "POLISH FOR FOREIGNERS - Audio Course by EDGARD (". Yes, its a book and a CD. I download it in my IPOD so its very handy and can brought it anywhere. I found it helpful. If you want I cant ask my husband where he bought it.

Good luck for bought of us :)
ChrisPoland 2 | 123
8 Jun 2011 #23
I too have Polish in-laws, the difference being, we live in Poland.

As you have figured out, your mother-in-law is not going to learn English. If you want to communicate with her (and that's a big IF), you will have to learn Polish. Now that I can speak Polish (more or less), I understand that sometimes it is difficult to explain everything they are talking about. Of course, your boyfriend could clue you in on the topic, for ex "We are talking about Aunt Zofia's operation", so at least you know what's going on. Also when you start to learn some vocab it is very helpful for someone to clue you in. When you know what they are talking about, you can pick out words much more easily.

Don't be bored or self-coonscious when you are left alone or nobody is translating for you. Just get into the zone of letting the language, the sounds, the candence wash over you. You don't live in Poland so take advantage of the opportunity to hear the language.

I'm pretty sure that my m-i-l on some days wishes I hadn't learned Polish ;)

Good luck!
2 Jul 2011 #24
I'm from Canada and I have a very similar experience. My fiancé is Polish and moved to Canada at 13. He is now 25 and fluent in English but his parents are not. I have never had a conversation of more than hello and goodbye with his mom and I feel really bad about it because she is really sick and in and out of the hospital frequently and I can't express anything to her or even find out how she's doing! It seems Polish people are quite cliquey as they tend to hang out in groups and speak polish only around me even though they are all so fluent in English you wouldn't know they were immigrants! We have gone to Poland several times now and I find it's the same thing....I'm left alone in the apartment with his aunt, uncle and cousin while he runs out with his friends or left in a room with strangers or even forced to sit with a group of people for hours without a single translation. My fiancé thinks I can communicate well enough but he hasn't once taken the time to teach me in the 7.5 years we've been together! I've been in university and just finished my first degree this May so it's not realistic for me to have the time to devote to going to classes to be fluent. I feel it's a cultural thing....all very proud of being polish and almost selfish like they don't want to let outsiders into their "secret club". Don't get me wrong, everyone is super nice to me but they certainly don't go out of their way or bend over backwards to include me....and I'm talking more about hanging out with friends in my home country. I understand when I go Poland no one is going to speak English to me even though most people there know more english than I know polish, but I do expect my fiancé to include me to help me feel comfortable. It seems the polish mob mentality is engrained in most of the immigrants and it's a battle a lot of significant others are going to have to deal with.
catsoldier 62 | 595
2 Jul 2011 #25
Hi Mina,

If you need to learn Polish I think the Hurra books are good also, you will be able to learn it as you have learnt languages already. It is possible to get Polish lessons also through skype from a teacher and I think that a teacher is a good idea: hurra+po+polsku&tag=googiehydra

There are many resources on you tube/the internet also that you can use: bFR4E,0.html,1,4777475,wiadomosc.html

This one from, you can click and a woman reads the text, it should help with pronunciation.

best of luck

Maybe when you visit next you can do something together, cook something, have a laugh, maybe there is one person in his family who would be open to teaching you some Polish?

American possibly speaking Arabic but having the crack anyway:
diana_1 1 | 2
3 Jul 2011 #26
Hey Everyone, I am just in the same situation, I'm from Venezuela and my fiance is a Polish guy, when I was in Poland he didnt traslate anything for me when we were in a group of people, and with his family was a little more easy because they know a little of english, I think is something common in the polish guys, i dont know if the problem is selfish or lazyness, but I felt like a alien too, for a Latina is more difficult this kind of language, I am more worry because I going to move to Poland permanently in two months I really want to learn the language, I will tell you that better go a school a learn dont wait that he help you, i am sure that you can learn at least for the family, dont try to explain him how bad you feel when he doesnt help you, they doesnt understand they thing different, In some months i told to my fiance i feel like your pet because you only speak in english when we are alone. Ahhh other thing i remember my fiance told me that he doesnt like in english in from of his friend because they laugh of him..

Good Luck :)
Ziemowit 14 | 4,258
3 Jul 2011 #27
Hi Mina,
There's something about the relation which is beyond your linguistic problems. It seems your bf's family is prepared to be nice and accepting, but only on their own terms. Your bf supports them in that. It is you who move from your place and it is you who is expected to learn Polish in Ireland. On the other hand, you who master six languages are unable to learn basic Polish. Frankly speaking, I feel your liason is on the good way to disruption in the near future, even if you are not ready to admit it to yourself. There are too many signs of it and you begin to feel it under your skin.
catsoldier 62 | 595
3 Jul 2011 #28
I was thinking about this, are they all afraid of speaking English because of being laughed at etc.? Both him and his family? Being laughed at by each other and others? Being laughed at is hard to take.
zinc 1 | 8
6 Jul 2011 #29
an alternative idea is to try and find a 'neutral' language (russian might be good) and go along with the parents to lessons in that ... most likely they will give up quickly (especially if it's a hard language for them) but it will help them realise how tough it is for you and that may probably help you to learn, as a minimum it will give you some grounds to communicate in and a shared experience.

I have a friend married to a Pole who speaks only a little Polish, her in-laws speak Polish, but she also has polish family who she lived with for a bit, she can communicate really well with them just through experience, and through both they and she really being driven to communicate. So I guess if you can find situations where your bf's mum or dad need to find a way to communicate with you, you can start to form some kind of way of communication. Finding some kind of activity you can do one-on-one with them is probably the key, e.g. helping with cooking (sorry for the stereotype but this is Poland). How far you can go depends on how keen they are to help you and probably you'll need to explain that to your boyfriend to get him to get them on side.
Jimmu 2 | 156
13 Nov 2011 #30
Why do I keep seeing things like this on PF? I get the impression that at least half of the more prominent posters are professional or semi-professional language teachers. And yet the "get your gf/bf/in-laws to teach you Polish" comments go unchallenged! I am an educated, well read and fluent native speaker of English, but I suffer no illusions that I would be a good English teacher. Teaching requires skills, knowledge, and education that I and most bf/gf/in-laws do not have. I can, and have served as a tutor or maybe sparring partner for people learning English as a second language. I can answer some specific questions and help people get comfortable with speaking English but I would hate to be a student with me as the teacher!

When somebody asks "How do I learn to speak Polish?" the answers should be either "Find a good teacher." or "Learn the way Poles do. Trial and error and endless repetition." keeping in mind that being older it may take you 3 or 4 times as long as the 5 years or so it takes them to achieve basic competence.

Quoting myself:"Teaching requires skills, knowledge, and education.." and I forgot the most important thing. PATIENCE!

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