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Is this true about Polish pronunciation of English (that some words sound identical?)

Moonstone 1 | 1
18 Aug 2011 #1

My friend told me today that some Poles find it difficult to tell the difference between the sounds of "ah" and "uh" in English -- for example, she said that the words "hat" and "hut" sound identical to Polish ears. Is this true?

Sorry, I know this seems like a strange question, but my friend and I have had a mini-argument about this. The thing is, neither of us know any Polish people, and so when she told me this, I said, "How do you know?", and she said, "I just know. I just read it somewhere", and she insists that it's 100% true, even though she doesn't have any evidence to back it up!

I would be very grateful to anyone that can help my friend and I settle this. Thank you. :)
Seanus 15 | 19,672
18 Aug 2011 #2
Your friend is right. A and U are often confused and I often hear this as a teacher. Batman sounds like Buttman, LOL :) As a Scotsman, I pronounce my vowels clearly and they just can't copy me that well. They don't open their mouths when saying 'A' like I do.
OP Moonstone 1 | 1
18 Aug 2011 #3
Really? Well, she'll lord that over me for the rest of the evening, then.

The thing is, I love her and everything, but she's always coming out with things like this, and most of the time, she's wrong. I'll have to admit defeat tonight, though...

Thanks. :)
18 Aug 2011 #4
It all very much depends on how much exposure one has had to english in his/her lifetime..... but yes, for many Poles this differentiation is difficult. Also, it depends on whether one has musical ear or not.
Seanus 15 | 19,672
18 Aug 2011 #5
Some you win, some you lose.
Wroclaw 44 | 5,369
18 Aug 2011 #6
just done a test

say hat............ hat

say hut............ hot.

problem: my test subject had never learnt or heard 'hut' before.
ShortHairThug - | 1,101
18 Aug 2011 #7
Your friend is right. A and U are often confused and I often hear this as a teacher.

There’s a difference between American and British pronunciation, although British make it sound closer to Polish "a" I can still hear the difference. Perhaps some of the British accents make it indistinguishable to the Polish ear, I'm not that familiar with British accents simply didn't have enough contact with you but from observation Americans pronounce it as Polish "e" that sure as hell can't be confused with Polish "a" sound so I guess it all depends. Claim technicality, it's a draw. Tell her you meant American English. Never concede defeat.
MyMom 6 | 137
18 Aug 2011 #8
I pronounce hat and hut the same.
But if I didn't know any English I would pronounce hat as in "chata" and hut as in "huta" :D
Wroclaw 44 | 5,369
18 Aug 2011 #9
"chata" and hut as in "huta"

would that not give us 'hut' ... 'hoot'
18 Aug 2011 #10
...not to mention between "hat" (hAt) and "head" (hEd). Often though, to give people the benefit of the doubt here, it was more the pronunciation than the spelling itself which drives learners crazyLOL

Dictations in my beginning ESL class, among whom were numerous, Poles, usually were returned bloody red with umpteen such confusions-:)

"Where is the frying pan? It's near my fountain pen." usually came out orally "Vaaihrrr iz zuh frrajink pen? Eetss neaaihrr maj fauntajn pan."

Elision also causes many Poles difficulty, since we Americans almost always string our sounds together, e.g. "Saturday" (sadd'rday) vs. (sahT- TUR-day) etc..
Koala 1 | 332
19 Aug 2011 #11
Learning vowels is almost always the most difficult of learning pronunciation of any foreign language, Polish has 8 vowels whereas French has 16 or 17 and I can't even hear the difference between many of them, let alone pronounce them correctly. English isn't as tricky, but still difficult.
Nightglade 7 | 97
19 Aug 2011 #12
From what I've gathered with my students, and my partner (whom is Polish) they can certainly differentiate the sounds when hearing them, but pronouncing them is another matter. Whenever my partner says something along the lines of "My ankle [sounding like uncle] is in pain" I always ask what's wrong with him. Aunt / ant is another. I am quite cruel, but with time I managed to get her to pronounce it perfectly with this unusual and crude sentence:

"My uncle ant's aunt had an uncle with a broken ankle after my uncle ant's aunt's uncle tripped over an ant"
scottie1113 7 | 898
19 Aug 2011 #13
Try -ough. There are nine ways to pronounce this in English. But one of my favorites is beach, as in there are many beautiful beaches in Poland. It comes out as bitch. I won't tell you my answer to that one . :)

I've got lots more... Choir. Great story behind this one.

Polish pronuciation is regular. English isn't. No wonder it makes my students crazy.
Nightglade 7 | 97
19 Aug 2011 #14
Try -ough. There are nine ways to pronounce this in English.

8. A rough-coated, dough-faced ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing and hiccoughing thoughtfully.

By the way. Does anyone ever stare at a word for so long, or use it so frequently in rapid succession that you begin to doubt whether it's a real word? A few nights ago I was beginning to doubt the existence of the word "door" and just now with 'uncle".
19 Aug 2011 #15
I like to walk my students through that wonderful ESL-learners' verse:

"I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and lough and dough.
Others may struggle (but not you)
On hiccough, thorough, trough and through...

Come, come! You are perhaps,
Aquaint' with more familiar traps...

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
That sounds like bird, but looks like beard..."
scottie1113 7 | 898
19 Aug 2011 #16
Yes, that's my favorite! it's longer than that, but I recocognized it immediately.
catsoldier 62 | 595
19 Aug 2011 #17
"hat" and "hut" sound identical to Polish ears. Is this true?

Slam dog millionaire @ 2.35 and 2.52

cjj - | 281
19 Aug 2011 #18
our family favourites are


but i'm from the depths of northern ireland so cannot toss any stones around in a conversation about pronunciation.

[i've had recent exposure to the 'a' / 'u' dilemma .. .turns the description of a simple software application crash on some hardware into something a lot more imaginative ... ]
19 Aug 2011 #19
...oh, then, of course, there's "mAny" and "mOney"
mische 1 | 14
20 Aug 2011 #20
Great thread.
I'm often embarrassed because of my pronunciation.

My biggest problems are:
live - leave
as - ass
sheet - sh*t

I often can't hear any difference...
legend 3 | 659
20 Aug 2011 #21
When going from English -> Polish my dad has always had a problem with

a/an/the- missing the articles when speaking/writing.


he says sheet and sh*t with the same pronunciation :)
20 Aug 2011 #22
....And neither can Russian, Asian, Arabic or Spanish native speakers, Mische, you're hardly alone!!
22 Aug 2011 #23
live - leave

actually that pair shouldn't cause any trubble. Pronounce them like: lyw - liv


It seems that fairy is pronounce the same way as furry, while in ferry the accent goes on last syllable, is that correct?

Personally I have problems with word beach and b*tch. I think the pronounciation of word beach in my case sounds more like the other word. I hear the difference

but can't say what makes it. Maybe it's like b*tch is pronounce more as "bycz", when beach should be pronounce similarily to "bicz" (but bit longer)

he says sheet and sh*t with the same pronunciation :)

sit and siet. Just show him that, that should help ;)
22 Aug 2011 #24
I still remember a sample phrase/sentence in a textbook on pronunciation for Poles learning English I once used. This was said by the native Polish author to be particularly troublesome for those Polish speakers making that (arduous) transition from English to American:

Vincent 9 | 891
22 Aug 2011 #25
In British English, I would say fairy and ferry are almost similar, just a small difference, while furry is completely different. The "fur" part is quite clear.

Maybe it's like b*tch is pronounce more as "bycz", when beach should be pronounce similarly to "bicz" (but bit longer)

That's probably close enough. Actually bitch is pretty close to the Polish verb być.
Nightglade 7 | 97
25 Aug 2011 #26
Actually bitch is pretty close to the Polish verb być.

I never let that one go ;)

I often hear troubles with sheet / shit, beach / bitch, leave / live too.. But always try to gently fix it with
"szit / szyt" emphasing the longer e sound in sheet. bicz / być, liw / lyw.

I gave one of my students today an article about the bermuda triangle conspiracy, and a plane flight to "Cockburn town" of Grand Turk Island.. My student saw it, and deliberately pronounced it wrong as "Kook burn". I had the dilemma of whether or not to correct her, but in the end didn't have the strength.
25 Aug 2011 #27
Cockburn town

i think it's pronounced "Coburn"....what an embarrassing name if not!
delphiandomine 88 | 18,116
25 Aug 2011 #28
i think it's pronounced "Coburn"

The street in Edinburgh is pronounced that way...could be the same?
25 Aug 2011 #29
I'd like to add one thing. It'd be really helpful if the spelling of the word provided any sort of guidance to its pronunciation, which unfortunately isn't the case in English. The fact that you have to look up the word in a dictionary to learn its pronunciation severely hinders the speed of learning and most people don't bother, being satisfied with their guesses.
25 Aug 2011 #30
yes I think it's an old rum family with Scottish roots..(for "rum" read "slave owning") My bro used to date some posh bird with that name who was always flitting between London, the Caribbean and some draughty Scottish pile....

My Polish bf has a real problem with bitch and beach....shit and sheet..still it amuses us..:)

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