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Pronunciation difficulties for Poles speaking English


kie 13 | 25
30 Oct 2011 #1
Hello.

What difficulties do Poles typically have when attempting to pronounce English words and what are the reasons for this?

I am interested as I'm currently helping a Polka to speak English. Not sure if it makes a great difference, but I am also using British English.

I've got a brief understanding of and can refer to the phonemic symbols.

Thanks, Kieron.
teflcat 5 | 1,032
30 Oct 2011 #2
/Ʒ:/, as in nurse, is a problem for Poles because they don’t have this sound in Polish.
/Ɔ:/, as in door, war, more, is another one. Try getting your student to repeat lists of words after you, e.g. nurse, norse; hearse, horse; bird, bored.

/æ/, as in cat, is another tricky one for Poles. So is /˄/, as in but.
Again, try minimal pairs, like cat, cut; hat, hut; bat, but.

/Ө/ and /ð/, as in thin and this pose real problems, with Poles taking the path of least resistance and uttering fin and viss, although estuary English is making these sounds more acceptable!
polmed 1 | 216
30 Oct 2011 #3
what are the reasons for this?

The main reason is the fact that English language is the most inconsistent language in the world . It doesn`t have any predictable rules in pronunciation , double vowels and its grammar rules are totally different than Polish . Because of these differences it is very hard to learn both languages by Polish and English speakers .

Just for example :
English letter "u" is pronunced in Polish only like "u" , but it has few different pronunciations in English -

in a word "you" - Polish pronunciation of a letter "u" is the same like in English

but in other words like :

"music, mute , mural " - it sounds like Polish "ju"
" but , hut " - like Polish "a "
"bury " - like Polish "e"
"succint" - like Polish "y" why do you pronunce it more like Polish " syksynt " is a total puzzle for me .
Vincent 9 | 805 Moderator
30 Oct 2011 #4
" but , hut " - like Polish "a "

I think this must be the same as ś and sz. Hard to tell the difference straight away. Not many British people would put a hut on their head on a cold January morning.

"succint" - like Polish "y" why do you pronunce it more like Polish " syksynt " is a total puzzle for me .

Just glad this word doesn't come up much in everyday conversation.:)
polmed 1 | 216
30 Oct 2011 #5
Because you dont have ś in your language , you have to learn how to pronunce it from a Polish speaker .

No , we don`t put huts on our heads when its cold . The difference between hut and hat is easy to discern for Polish speaker ." Hut' in Polish sounds like " hat " , but "Hat " sounds in Polish like "het".LOLs, so complicated total mish mash.
legend 3 | 664
30 Oct 2011 #6
My dad says shit instead of sheet :)
polmed 1 | 216
30 Oct 2011 #7
For an English speaker it must sound funny , when he asks for some shits of paper in a bookstore :)
Wroclaw 44 | 5,387
30 Oct 2011 #8
Hut' in Polish sounds like " hat " , but "Hat " sounds in Polish like "het".

when someone can recognize certain words... they are pronounced correctly. this is after learning english alphabet sounds.

most learners will recognize 'hat' and will give the english pronunciation.

However, daughter number three read 'hut' as 'hoot'. this is because she'd never seen the word before.

when there is a difficulty the Polish alphabet sounds come into use.
chichimera 1 | 186
30 Oct 2011 #9
I've a problem with L - there seem to be 2 sounds for L in English: 1) called 2) cold. Number 1 sounds similar to the L we use in Polish but number 2 is something between L and £ (or W in English) - I can hear the difference but I'm unable to pronounce it. Any tips?
teflcat 5 | 1,032
30 Oct 2011 #10
The fact that you can hear a slight difference shows that you have a good ear (probably two, in fact) for English. When you say called you can feel your tongue touching your alveolar ridge, the hard part of the roof of your mouth just behind your top teeth (sometimes burned when we eat hot pizza). Does your tongue touch this part when you say cold? It should.
JonnyM 11 | 2,621
30 Oct 2011 #11
Number 1 sounds similar to the L we use in Polish but number 2 is something between L and £ (or W in English)...... Any tips?

Yes. Ignore it. The difference between the two sounds is a regional thing from south-east England. It doesn't usually sound good when someone from another country speaks Estuary English. Unless they've immigrated to Romford in which case they're beyond help anyway..

Hut' in Polish sounds like " hat " , but "Hat " sounds in Polish like "het".

See above. You have clearly been speaking to the wrong people

succint" - like Polish "y" why do you pronunce it more like Polish " syksynt " is a total puzzle for me .

No. Perhaps you've been hobnobbing with a person from Rhodesia or some such. Down our way we pronounce it correctly /sʌksɪnkt/
chichimera 1 | 186
30 Oct 2011 #12
so do you both suggest that cold and called can sound alike and that's ok? The thing is sometimes I have to ask for salt and people don't get what I'm asking for - then after I've repeated it several times placing my tongue in random places of my mouth trying to guess what the L should sound like they say Ah, saWt - or something close to that - and then they know.. It makes me feel quite stupid really...

/sʌksɪnkt/ I think Polish native speakers don't naturally know what ʌ and ɪ sound like - or even if they know they find it difficult to produce those sounds. To me ʌ like in hut sounds like a combination of Polish u and y rather than Polish a; and ɪ more like Polish y, the Polish sound for i is similar to what in English is written ee like in deep - that's why polmed asked if succint sounds like syksynt - I think it does a bit - although it's a simplified way of pronouncing it
teflcat 5 | 1,032
30 Oct 2011 #13
placing my tongue in random places of my mouth trying to guess what the L should sound like they say Ah, saWt

Your profile says you're in Nottingham, which would explain a lot! There are lots of regional accents in England, and you just have to 'tune in'.

so do you both suggest that cold and called can sound alike and that's ok?

The l sound is the same but the vowel sound is different. called has a sound like door or more in 'standard' English pronunciation, but cold has a vowel sound like old or over.
chichimera 1 | 186
30 Oct 2011 #14
:) Thanks for that! I think I getting it now. At last :)
LanguageSwap - | 2
31 Oct 2011 #15
What is more, i think that a lot of Polish people have problem with such phenomenon called final devoicing, i mean they pronounce for example the word boys like / bois/ instead of voiced z in the end. because the rule of final devoicing applies in Polish.
ShAlEyNsTfOh 4 | 161
31 Oct 2011 #16
I've lived in Canada since I was 5 - that's over 20 years now - yet i've managed to develop an interesting slight accent in my everyday speech, which does create some problems for me, seeing as I generally speak very fast... almost makes it seem like i have a speech impediment at times.

I virtually cannot pronounce the english 'r'...it comes out, more or less, sounding like a 'w'. Words like: right, wright, and the worst, 'reward'.. i always end up saying something like 'wee-werd' lol... I do tend to roll my R's slightly in many, if not all, english words, simply because I find it easier.

Also, words like 'tragedy' or 'strategy' - don't know why really.. it's like saying 'czra-dże-di' lol... i find it a whole lot easier to say in polish 'tragedia' :P

and the 'th' sound for me, like most Poles, is a no-no. 'The' becomes 'da', three becomes 'free', and so on..
JonnyM 11 | 2,621
31 Oct 2011 #17
placing my tongue in random places of my mouth trying to guess what the L should sound like they say Ah, saWt

Short /o/ hard /l/ should be fine,think 'solt', po polsku.

edit

I just read that you're in Nottingham (pretty well the only accent I can't parody). They would say something like /sawt/ that's hard to copy. Nobody would expect you to say it the way they do, and you could maybe derive some comfort that I can speak Polish with a fairly good Mazowiecki accent but can't do Nottingham despite coming from 50km away. The Nottingham accent is very specific and (in my opinion) not very nice. Maybe you've noticed that only a few miles out of town the accent changes.
chichimera 1 | 186
31 Oct 2011 #18
here a clip which shows the global problem...ze inglisch... ;)

LoL, that is really funny :D

because the rule of final devoicing applies in Polish.

That is a nightmare.. That's why we happen to say: "Give me the kiss" instead of "Give me the keys" and "Where is my back?" instead of "Where is my bag?"

I virtually cannot pronounce the english 'r'...it comes out, more or less, sounding like a 'w'

Someone told me that when saying the English r the lips should be shaped as if you wanted to say u in Polish - not sure how correct that advice is but I've been following it

erive some comfort that I can speak Polish with a fairly good Mazowiecki accent but can't do Nottingham despite coming from 50km away.

That is comforting indeed :) By the way - do you think there are accents in Polish? When I lived in Lublin I was told sometimes that I had the "singing" Masurian accent but still don't have a clue what they meant. In Polish I distinguish just 3 accents: the "normal" Polish and the Silesian and the Kashubian one - but the two latter exist because their Polish is influenced by the dialects. Or maybe my ears become lazy when it comes to Polish
a.k.
17 Jun 2013 #19
I'm currently reading a book on that subject.
Absolute suprise to me was the fact there are no similar vowel to Polish ones! They are all more or less different. All Polish vowels barring "y" is frontal or back, while most English middle vowels.

There is also a huge chunk of information how the word pronunciation and accent change in a sentence depending what surrounds the word.
A huge clue is an information about so called "weak pronuciation" which is present in English. It appears that nothing in natural speech is pronounced accordingly to the dictionary. That's why Poles perceive Br English speech as, forgive me my wording, mumbling interrupted with accented words.
Lyzko
18 Jun 2013 #20
Poles often seem to have trouble "slurring" i.e. speaking words perceived as "casually" in American English. Our consonants are usually so elided that one sound/word does sound as though it were flowing into the next one, without any break or interruption, this is quite true! Poles speaking English often sound intensely deliberate, though in their own minds, this might scarcely be the case. The trilling of 'R' in all positions of the word also tends to "slow down" their pronunciation of English words, e.g. a Pole pronouncing "SAHTTURRRDAIYY" for "Saturday", medial 'R' sounding practically like a 'schwa-sound' for native English/American English speakers, combined with a flat rather than a broad 'A-sound'.
bledi_nowysacz 2 | 53
18 Jun 2013 #21
When I started learning Polish I was still in Greece and despite some "polish for foreigners,polish in 4 weeks" my wife brought also a book for kids which had some very basic polish-english dialogues. At the end was the vocabulary.

Three little pigs - (free little pigs ) - Trzy male swinki :D :D
a.k.
18 Jun 2013 #22
The trilling of 'R' in all positions of the word also tends to "slow down" their pronunciation of English words

You should remeber that young Poles rarely have problems with pronouncing untrilled R. I don't speak like you mention above. I have a good American R as well as good British-style shwa-R combination. Actually I don't hear people pronouncing trilled R in English except maybe beginner-learners in their 50s.

Our consonants are usually so elided that one sound/word does sound as though it were flowing into the next one, without any break or interruption

I know it's true, it's described in the book :)
As a matter of fact in Polish we do that too, however many are unaware of that.
Lyzko
18 Jun 2013 #23
Your elisions though are more vocalic-consonental, than purely consonental, oh indeed, I'm well aware of them (..and have been, even as a rank beginner)!

I've yet to meet a Pole however, old or young, completely able to break free from the native accent of their mother tongue. Often, their Polish accent goes unnoticed amid a sea of other non-native English speakers so everything gets lost in a kind of tossed salad.
scottie1113 7 | 898
18 Jun 2013 #24
I've yet to meet a Pole however, old or young, completely able to break free from the native accent of their mother tongue.

I suggest you meet more Poles. The Polish teachers at my school speak excellent unaccented English, some with American, British or Scottish accents. One of them fooled a British teacher at my school, who, upon meeting Matt, asked him what part of England he was from. He was amazed to learn that Matt was Polish.

It can be done.
Lyzko
18 Jun 2013 #25
I don't doubt for a minute that there are always those rare birds who fly into the aviary of common parlance and have mastered the mimicry etc. of a foreign language so closely that it truly resembles the speech of an educated native! We call them intelligence operatives and the Foreign Office is well crawling with 'em:-) Know a couple myself, and yes, I too was taken by delighted surprise!

On the other hand, you're referring in this case to the dreamed-for exception to the rule, not the average Mieszko and Leszek who've studied English for years and still have such thick accents that they all but need an interpreter in order to be (mis-)understood lol I can assure you, the Poles, at least the ones whom I know, and have studied modern languages at university, speak much better German than English.

Guess I have to act more surprised next time ^^
a.k.
19 Jun 2013 #26
Lyzko, how's your Polish pronunciation?
Lyzko
19 Jun 2013 #27
Not too bad, I should think. Poles have asked me what part of the Ukraine I'm from:-)
Perhaps they were only jokingLOL
Nacjonalista 4 | 96
19 Jun 2013 #28
English language in 24 accents:

youtube.com/watch?v=dABo_DCIdpM
pawian 163 | 10,430
27 Oct 2019 #29
It is obvious the most problematic are the unique sounds which don`t exist in Polish.

My list according to difficulty from my students` experience:
ŋ - ing (No 1 worst sound to learn)
ð - the
θ - math
æ - cat
Lyzko 25 | 7,521
28 Oct 2019 #30
Exactly, Pawian!

The English might have a slightly easier time with certain typically Polish sound combos, for instance "pelny", since many from the London area, certainly
trained RP speakers, would surely hear a similarity to how a native speaker would pronounce "pony" vs. the American variety:-)
The 'u-sound' of "ugly" too would surely pose fewer problems for a Pole learning English from England than, say, from an American,
where that 'u-sound' is far less frontal, almost glottal in nature.


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