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Pretending you don't speak Polish - Poles have a strong preference and love for English


pernumba 4 | 1
17 Dec 2017 #1
So the title of this thread is a little misleading, but here's the gist of it:

I've been here in Warsaw for about 6 months, I'm from the US, and I speak Polish pretty decently. I can talk about basically anything but I mess up the przypadki and grammatical stuff a lot if I'm not paying attention. One thing I've noticed is that people DO NOT want me to speak to them in Polish. Especially young people. As soon as people hear me speak, even if I say something quickly and fluently with no mistakes, they switch to English immediately. I don't even have an "american accent" I roll my 'R's perfectly and have been told I sound italian or spanish when I speak Polish>

expats in other countries say how important it is to learn the local language; in Poland it is reversed. I know a guy who speaks Polish perfectly, and English extremely well (considering it's not his first language.) and he talks to everyone in English even when they don't speak English 1/10th of how he speaks Polish.

maybe poles have this love for the English language or something, I'm not really sure.

Like I've said, I've only been here 6 months, but this is the strangest thing to me. I've been to over 20 countries and speak 6 languages not counting Polish and I have never experienced such a strong preference and love for English anywhere in the world. At least in northern europe they are literally just speaking to you in English because it is the most effective means of communication, but here people's eyes light up at the chance to speak English, you can literally feel someone waiting to say something to you in English with such strong anticipation.

It's convenient for me in terms of quality of life, but inconvenient cuz sometimes I think to myself while studying Polish, "why am I doing this, even if I hit C2, people are just going to be disappointed that their English speaking machine is no longer available, and it won't make my life better socially, or logistically."
kaprys 2 | 1,910
17 Dec 2017 #2
How about telling them you'd rather speak Polish. I bet they think you'd rather speak English and want to be helpful.
mafketis 21 | 7,448
17 Dec 2017 #3
but this is the strangest thing to me

Warsaw (like any capital) is weird, try to move to another city. Where do you meet people, if you're hanging out with workish people and/or expats they just might expect English.

That said, I've almost never had that experience of people switching to English with me (unless we were introduced through an English speaker originally) and when it's happened I just stuck with Polish for a couple rounds and they give up. Some years ago I went to an office where I had been told that everybody was supposed to speak English all the time and found them speaking Polish (American boss was out) and did the same.
terri 1 | 1,632
17 Dec 2017 #4
Maybe people just want to practice speaking English and use you as a sounding block.....
Lyzko 24 | 6,759
17 Dec 2017 #5
Love for and talent or ability in English are not the same, pernumba:-)

I too have visited Poland and, while nearly every Pole I met spoke nothing but Polish, those who politely "claimed" to speak English required a veritable re-translation of their English back into Polish, from there into comprehensible American. Being a social sort, I merely smiled in order to be friendly, and pretended I understood them.

No offense, but Poles' strong preference and/or love for English (as with many other Europeans these days) is more often than not either politically, that is, socially or economically, rather than linguistically, motivated! If vulgar, US-slang is the order of the day, then let it be.

If someone, be they a Pole, German, Spaniard or whoever, really wants to "practice" their English, then they ought to realize ahead of time, that practice also involves correction of their own mistakes. Were I more than willing to take their correction of my Polish, they then should be as willing to accept my gentle correction of their English.

That's only fair, I think.
Ironside 48 | 9,888
17 Dec 2017 #6
I too have visited Poland

You have visited Poland like 20 years ago if your own account is to believed. So it should be hard to imagine that a lot changed during this time. Indeed about 20 years ago people fairly proficient in English were very seldom to be found. The number of people speaking quite good English in Poland has mushroomed since.
Wulkan - | 3,251
17 Dec 2017 #7
I mess up the przypadki and grammatical stuff a lot

There you go, it's hurting their ears so they switch to the language you can speak properly.
terri 1 | 1,632
18 Dec 2017 #8
I'll tell you a strange story. I sometimes make mistakes in my Polish when I speak, but I've found that Poles delight in correcting me on the spot. I just say 'thank you, I didn't know that, I will try to remember'. However, when someone speaks to me in English and I correct them in a similar manner, they take it personally, think that I am laughing at them and their whole demeanour changes towards me. I am not laughing but trying to help.

This has happened to me numerous times, so in the end I don't even bother correcting some people, as it is not worth the abuse I get from them, such as 'you think you know everything', 'you think you're clever, but you have made mistakes in your life' - which is totally irrelevant to the conversation.
mafketis 21 | 7,448
18 Dec 2017 #9
but I've found that Poles delight in correcting me on the spot.

Not my experience (I do remember once being corrected for saying tę książkę(!). What I've found more often is I'll discover some mistake that I've made for years (z przyjacielami) and ask people why they never corrected me and the answer is usually something like "well I understood.... and some Polish people say that sometimes"

Once someone said I come up with "strange constructions, understandable but strange"

Also IME people that refuse to speak Polish (even after you say that's your preference) are users just looking for free language class and I cut them out of my life and don't feel the lack...
Ziemowit 12 | 3,605
18 Dec 2017 #10
why am I doing this, even if I hit C2, people are just going to be disappointed that their English speaking machine is no longer available

Tell them you don't speak English unless your too strong American accent gives you away.

I do remember once being corrected for saying tę książkę(!)

WOW!
Lyzko 24 | 6,759
18 Dec 2017 #11
@Pernumba, try correcting THEIR mistakes when they start (unsolicited) correcting yours:-) They make plenty as well, believe me.

@Ironside,

The more things change, there more they stay the same!
gumishu 11 | 5,017
19 Dec 2017 #12
such as 'you think you know everything'

they are projecting their own flaws at you - a lot of Polish people think they are know-it-alls - correcting their mistakes hurts their egos naturally
Lyzko 24 | 6,759
19 Dec 2017 #13
AMEN, gumi! Few truer words have ever been spoken here on PF:-) Bottle that thought.
Chemikiem 6 | 2,113
20 Dec 2017 #14
One thing I've noticed is that people DO NOT want me to speak to them in Polish

Maybe they think you would be more comfortable speaking in your own language? Or maybe you are making more mistakes than you realise as you've admitted you sometimes mess up cases and grammar and they feel they are trying to be helpful ? I can't say I've noticed that Poles have a particular love for speaking in English. If I speak in Polish, then I'm answered in Polish. Of course, this is just my experience and clearly yours is different.

expats in other countries say how important it is to learn the local language; in Poland it is reversed

I'd say it is important as you won't want to be constantly reliant on other people, but I don't think it is reversed in Poland. I think many Poles are pleasantly surprised when foreigners speak to them in their own language. What you have to remember is that Polish is not an easy language to master, and very few foreigners probably speak it fluently, especially English speakers. Those from Slavic countries will find it easier to pick up. More than likely Poles are well used to their language being butchered ( I'm not saying that is the case with you though! ), and they know their language is difficult. I think more than anything that Poles don't expect foreigners to learn their language, especially given that English is becoming more widely spoken.
gumishu 11 | 5,017
20 Dec 2017 #15
but I don't think it is reversed in Poland

I think there is a point in what pernumba said - I have read about the same situation from a couple of foreigners in youtube comments under videos teaching Polish - many especially young people will definitely like the opportunity to practice their English
Lyzko 24 | 6,759
20 Dec 2017 #16
RIght again, gumishu! But as I say, with "practice" comes the occasional need for correction of the language in question being practiced.

@Wulkan, if you think that certain of our Polish sentences positively "hurt" your ears, try listening to yourselves in English sometime. It's nothing to be proud of, I can tell you that much, nothing a little modesty couldn't easily cure:-)
Chemikiem 6 | 2,113
20 Dec 2017 #17
I think there is a point in what pernumba said

I'm not saying there isn't, just that on the whole it hasn't been my experience. Many of the Poles I know have been loathe to speak English, for fear of being laughed at or ridiculed. Not by me of course!

try listening to yourselves in English sometime. It's nothing to be proud of,

Lyzko, any language learner is going to make mistakes, it's part and parcel of learning, but seeing as though you make many 'typos' in Polish language, you have a bit of a nerve criticising their English.
Lyzko 24 | 6,759
20 Dec 2017 #18
Precisely my point, Chemikiem! I readily and gladly acknowledge such errors in Polish. Rarely though when in Poland, and never once here on PF, have I experienced the reverse:-) Often, I'll gently re-cast a sentence or two, perhaps alter a word, and will catch bloody hell for it, whilst I'm supposed to sit back and take rather unkind correction from my Polish interlocutor.

Not exactly a two-way street now, is it?


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