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How do Poles feel about foreigners learning their language?


Rain33 14 | 19    
14 Jul 2011  #1
Ok, I just have one question for Polish natives and Americans/British people living in Poland. My question is simple: How do Poles feel about foreigners learning their language? Are they like the French, who feel affronted when a foreigner confronts them in French, even though the foreigner's French pronunciation is wonderful and magnificent? Or do you, and I'm speaking to Poles in this sense, think the person is generally strange.

I ask this question because my professor wants to take us to Poland for study abroad credits. My Polish neighbors are already giving me the "Polish experience" here. They invited me over for obiad, which I mistakenly thought was lunch because that's the time I usually have lunch. I said a few words to my Polish hosts--"Dzień Dobry," "Dziękuję"--and they smiled at me, actually smiled, and the older gentleman took off his hat for five seconds, put it back on again, and asked me a few words in Polish, some of which I knew, some of which I didn't know. The granddaughter, who is my age and writes beautiful English poetry for a living, said that I had complimented them. When I asked her what I had said that gave her grandparents such joy, she said that I had spoken some Polish to them, and that was the greatest compliment that I could give.

Others think differently, of course. "If you don't have the pronunciation down pat, you won't be understood," I sometimes hear, although the folks that say these things have never been to Poland. I also hear this:"Polish people don't think it's polite when foreigners use their language," "Don't try to learn Polish, most Poles don't like it when you speak their language," "Polish people look down on others who try to speak their language; it's sort of like trying to be someone you are not and failing miserably," and, "I don't know why people are always trying to learn Polish. It's not like the Poles are dying to communicate with us in their native tongue. Ha, Ha, Ha!" (ok, I took this quote completely verbatim, so the laughter has to stay in.)

I have mixed feelings about going to Poland after listening to the above comments. After all, if I don't go, I feel that I will be missing a huge opportunity. Besides, when I am ever going to get the opportunity to study nuclear physics in Warsaw again? Or when will I ever get the chance to visit Wawel castle in Krakow? I don't know now....
gumishu 11 | 4,850    
14 Jul 2011  #2
"Don't try to learn Polish, most Poles don't like it when you speak their language,"

I am Polish to begin with - actually a good couple of foreigners who live/d in Poland enjoyed a status of TV celebrities pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Aiston and pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steffen_M%C3%B6ller were the most popular (Moeller even went on to write a book about Poland for German market which was also sold in Polish translation - the book was pretty successful in Germany)

the thing is if people know you are English/American they want to practice their English 'on you' and are therefore reluctant to talk Polish and let you practice your Polish skills
alexw68    
14 Jul 2011  #3
the folks that say these things have never been to Poland

This is complete bollocks. Ignore these idiots, they don't have a clue what they're on about. I've had a long, long time (16 years) to bump into someone who didn't appreciate the efforts made to speak even a couple of words of the language (as inevitably that's all they were going to get at the very start). Still waiting.
legend 3 | 671    
14 Jul 2011  #4
Basically if you speak Polish you are fine (everyone understands you).
If you speak English you are fine too (lots of Poles know English as it has replaced German and Russian in schools).
When you say something in English and end with a Polish word or two they will be happy that you used the language.
And like someone above said they might want to learn English for you.

Its a win win situation.
Polonius3 1,007 | 12,507    
14 Jul 2011  #5
Form my observation, Poles are usually delighted when a foreigner makes the effort to speak their language, even if he mangles it. They are nothing like the pedantic-chauvinistic French who won't give you the time of day if you don't speak "la belle langue française" like a native.

In my particular case, most Poles cannot detect from my Polish that I was born, raised and educated in the good ol' USA.
EdWilczynski 3 | 98    
14 Jul 2011  #6
Are they like the French, who feel affronted when a foreigner confronts them in French, even though the foreigner's French pronunciation is wonderful and magnificent?

What a load of old nonsense!!!

I speak French, I learnt in Belgium, I speak it with an English accent and a degree of the Liege region accent.....and never ever ever have I faced any francophone that is anything but delighted to speak with me.

I also hear this:

An even bigger load of old nonsense!!!
Harry    
14 Jul 2011  #7
I've had a long, long time (16 years) to bump into someone who didn't appreciate the efforts made to speak even a couple of words of the language

I've had a couple (i.e. two) of experiences in small towns with young people who were a bit grumpy that I spoke to them in Polish instead of English. I guess that they just wanted to practice their English (I very much doubt that either of the towns in question get many English-speaking tourists).
PennBoy 77 | 2,440    
14 Jul 2011  #8
actually a good couple of foreigners who live/d in Poland enjoyed a status of TV celebrities

I know this guy he was featured in Michael Palin's New Europe Poland episode. He's a firefighter in Krakow now.
alexw68    
14 Jul 2011  #9
Ex-fireman, though, if I recall correctly. And not impartial to the occasional nip of the old flammable stuff, it's claimed.
Wroclaw 45 | 5,403    
14 Jul 2011  #10
He isn't.

he was on a daytime chat show a week or so ago. speaking in nice, polite Polish. at least i think it was him.
Harry    
14 Jul 2011  #11
Ex-fireman, though, if I recall correctly. And not impartial to the occasional nip of the old flammable stuff, it's claimed.

As far as I know he's still active, somewhere north-east of Warsaw. I can't say if he does excessively like a drop but I do know his restaurant has fairly decent beer.

back to topic please.

Fair enough: there is a foreigner in Poland called Kevin Aiston who is a crew commander at Radzymin fire station (i.e. speaks Polish all day at work) and he speaks very good Polish.
OP Rain33 14 | 19    
14 Jul 2011  #12
In my particular case, most Poles cannot detect from my Polish that I was born, raised and educated in the good ol' USA.

That makes me feel better. I originally thought Poles might be offended if you tell them you are trying to learn their language, and learn it well. I don't want to offend anybody.
FlaglessPole 4 | 669    
14 Jul 2011  #13
lol now you can let go off the wall.. that's right, nice and easy.. good girl, now slowly... open your eyes... YAY! Can you see the staircase?

;)
catsoldier 62 | 598    
14 Jul 2011  #14
I originally thought Poles might be offended if you tell them you are trying to learn their language, and learn it well.

Oh, definitely go to Poland, it is a great place, speak Polish when you can, don't tell them you are learning just speak, it is great, Poland is the best place to speak Polish. I can't recommend it enough.
Lyzko    
14 Jul 2011  #15
ALL Poles whom I've encountered, either in Poland, i.e. in Europe (including Germany), or here in the States, have been grateful to speak their own language, add to that, invariably more fluent, cogent and engaging, than in English certainly, and even in German-:)

On occasion, of course, many have requested that I speak/write/to/communicate with/them in English, if only for their practice! I've gladly consented, only to have them give up after a while and revert back to Polish.

Unlike the Germans, Swedes, etc..., as I've said umpteen times, the Poles seem actually delighted for my English correction!

Once or twice, I was asked why a foreigner would learn Polish, for that matter any foreign language, outside of English. My response was usually that the proof of the asking lies in their EnglishLOL. Frequently, they agreed.
Seanus 15 | 19,742    
15 Jul 2011  #16
Many breathe a sigh of relief that you can :) :) Let's face it, would you really like a foreigner to come in with a thick accent and say, 'a right mate, six of those thingymajiggs, please'? :)
isthatu2 4 | 2,710    
15 Jul 2011  #17
the French, who feel affronted when a foreigner confronts them in French

Huh??????Never felt this when Ive used my school boy(+Spiral and le haine) french on them :)

Others think differently, of course. "If you don't have the pronunciation down pat, you won't be understood," I sometimes hear, although the folks that say these things have never been to Poland.

funny,the only people I have heard that from are native Poles....

:"Polish people don't think it's polite when foreigners use their language,"

again, turning this round completly ,the only snarky old bint I put up with once on a Warsaw tram did not like it when I was speaking ENGLISH as she couldnt understand what i was saying................badly bleached(that yellowy/orange tint) hair in a beehive............my mate didnt need to give her local insight on that particular "ladies" former political afiliations......

the thing is if people know you are English/American they want to practice their English 'on you' and are therefore reluctant to talk Polish and let you practice your Polish skills

Exactly,pain in the behind that was when i was trying to learn Polish,everyone just saw " native speaker" like I wore a sign on my forehead :)

Only people Ive known with shifty ideas about others learning their language have been Russians,and then only Russians of a certain,Cold war era, age.

frankly thats understandable seeing as my first Russian teacher was taught russian at HM Forces expense back in the 1950s ;)
Lyzko    
16 Jul 2011  #18
Gumishu's right unfortuinately! I too felt that "native English speaker" sign burden upon me as soon as I left Berlin with my erstwhile girlfriend (a Berliner, by the way, with zero Polish!!!) and rode by ICE into Poland. When other young, student-age types saw us together in the compartment chatting, albeit in German, a number actually stopped us while we were talking and asked in broken English (NOT in Polish) if we cared to talk in English. Most just kept on walking when we refused, but others would become downright aggressive in English. Finally, when we insisted we didn't understand their language and asked then in fake broken English whether they spoke German, they desisted and went away, all slightly annoyed or bewildered. In the end, when the last of the 'Eurail-Pass' crowd sauntered over to us, I responded in Polish and WOW, the looks on their faces. lol

Similar stuff happened to us in Prague-:)

I hasten to add that I was and still am eternally grateful when Poles correct my Polish-:)))
peter_olsztyn 6 | 1,102    
16 Jul 2011  #19
Poles might be offended

Poles will be lost in admiration when someone struggle to communicate in the harder way ;)
Lyzko    
16 Jul 2011  #20
My experience as well. P. Olsztyn,....in spades!!!

-:)

On the other side of the same coin, I for one always applaud the serious, concerted efforts of Poles to communicate well in English!
CashCache 4 | 12    
25 Jul 2011  #21
I am American and have been to Poland many times over the last several years. I don't speak Polish, but I continue to try and use Polish words and string them together in really ugly sentences. In my experience, Polish people love it when you try to communicate to them in their own language - even if you butcher it in the process. In fact, I once tried to buy ice cream from a little cart in Krakow. She refused to sell it to me until I could say Vanilla correctly. It took me about 5 minutes of trying before I could say "Waniliowy lodi, prosze". Once it came out correctly, I got my lodi and a bunch of people clapping around me. From that point on I promissed myself I would learn Polish.

I'm just getting started again trying to learn. It's hard but it's worth it. We're going again next summer, and I want to talk to friends and family in Polish this next time there.

-Scott
grubas 12 | 1,392    
25 Jul 2011  #22
Poles will be lost in admiration when someone struggle to communicate in the harder way ;)

More like amused than lost in admiration.I am yet to experience chatting in Polish with a foraigner but I think it must be super funny because foraigners trying to speak Polish sound like children and they make a lot of funny mistakes.
Lyzko    
25 Jul 2011  #23
Poles still are oodles kinder than the Hungarians, for instance, who will literally begin chortling at the poor foreigner trying to pronounce, let alone speak, their admittedly often intractable language-:) The Polish I found most charitable. Only to repeat, I was frequently asked why I bothered learning Polish, to which my response of their lacking English skills rarely drew a reaction; people just sort of stood there numb.
Seanus 15 | 19,742    
25 Jul 2011  #24
I get encouragement most of the time. Then again, I built up my skills in a careful way and haven't really experimented with the toughest aspects of grammar. I keep things simple.
Lyzko    
25 Jul 2011  #25
Seanus, I think that's smart. Nothin' worse there dude than gittin' in over yer head; ya might just drown-:)
On the other hand though, sometimes it's better to die tryin' LOL
Seanus 15 | 19,742    
25 Jul 2011  #26
The key is to build your foundation and then progressively enquire about the rest. Biting off more than you can chew is never a good idea for most language learners.
scottie1113 7 | 900    
25 Jul 2011  #27
I've been here for four years and no one has ever laughed at my Polish, poor though it may be. When I make mistakes, my friends correct me, but on the street or in a shop, even though I make mistakes they still understand me, and isn't communication what it's all about?
OP Rain33 14 | 19    
26 Jul 2011  #28
Poles still are oodles kinder than the Hungarians

This post reminds me of my own past: My mother is Hungarian, and her English is very, very poor, although she is able to read and write in the language; my father is part-Hungarian, and he is able to communicate very well in both English and Hungarian. I, however, can speak Hungarian but can't read or write a lick in the language--imagine that!

My mother, who grew up during Gerő's reign, told me and my brother a story about an Oxford English professor who lost his way at a train station. The professor saw my mother, her father and his friends nearby and rushed towards them. He was struggling to communicate to my grandfather's friends in Hungarian, even restoring to using his fingers to indicate what he wanted; my grandfather and his friends thought this action amusing and started to mock the poor gentleman until my mother intervened: "Don't mock him you old fools," she said.

To make a long story short, that English professor, years later, married my mother who gave him two children, my half-siblings. Sometimes in a foreign country you stick out like a sore thumb and are thus ridiculed, other times you are admired for struggling to learn the native language.
tampin - | 3    
28 Jul 2011  #29
I never ever had a negative experience in Poland about my , grossly lacking, knowledge of the Polish language.
On the contrary.
Lyzko    
28 Jul 2011  #30
Die Deutschen aber fand ich doch etwas spaerlich mit ihrem Lob! LOL

It seems that the Germans on the one hand were somewhat surprised if Americans in particular could speak German well. On the other hand, they would then proceed to systematically and unrelentingly correct every mistake in German the other person made, almost as though they were saying "If you really think you can speak our language, it must be perfect! Don't expect superficial praise from us." The Poles by contrast were unabashedly delighted when foreigners could speak their language, even if poorly.

Odd and rather a shame that most Germans didn't apply the same standards to speaking English-:)



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