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Polish dictionaries and works by Polish authors

jacobcmartin 1 | 3
22 Aug 2017 #1
I am an American interested in learning Polish, but I am not sure how much my Polish for Dummies book and Duolingo will help me since I do not have anyone around me who speaks or is learning Polish. I have searched on for books in Polish but have only been able to find books translated into Polish. I would also like to find a dictionary that is not Polish/English, but strictly Polish terms defined in Polish. Google searches have not really helped me find what I am looking for so I would appreciate suggestions.
DominicB - | 2,707
23 Aug 2017 #2

There are three stages of learning a language:

1) Acquiring a basic vocabulary of several thousand words. The best way to do this is with thematic and picture dictionaries and flashcards. This will take a year or more, depending on how many hours you are willing to invest a week.

2) Grammar and syntax learning. There is only one serious book for this, Swan's. Fortunately, it is available for free online. Again, this will take at least a year.

3) Intensive reading of real books. At first, Polish translations of books you have already read in English, like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, and then of native Polish literature, especially science fiction and fantasy, which have a huge range of vocabulary compared to other genres. And then audiobooks for comrehension.

Polish takes thousands of hours to learn, and speaking ability develops very slowly because of the complicated grammar. You have to have serious motivation, drive, perseverance and patience to get you through years of hard study. It isn't a language that you can acquire without serious commitment, especially of time.

So get some picture and thematic dictionaries and start making flashcards by the thousands and memorizing them intensively.

As for the dictionary you are asking about, there are only two dictionaries you will ever need. At the beginning, the Collins concise Polish-English dictionary, and later, a serious Polish-English dictionary like the Kościuszko Foundation Polish-English Dictionary or the PWN Polish-English dictionary. You will not need an English-Polish dictionary, and definitely not a Polish-Polish dictionary.
Atch 23 | 4,057
23 Aug 2017 #3
Dominic I think you're making the task of learning Polish somewhat intimidating. We are both well placed to advise a beginner as both of us are native English speakers who had to learn Polish, though obviously you are far more fluent than I am. However, I think the standard of fluency to which you aspire on the OP's behalf is quite frankly greater than many people achieve in their own native tongue! To address your points in turn:

1) You certainly need a basic vocabulary but I would disagree about 'thousands' of words just to get started. That should consist of the most commonly used verbs, nouns, adverbs and adjectives together with comparatives and superlatives. There are ways of acquiring the everyday language needed to function in the real world. One of the most basic things you should be able to do in a language is to to talk about yourself, tell people who you are, where you come from, where you live, your family, your profession and be able to obtain the same information from them. That alone gives you a lot of words which for which you will find constant uses in other contexts.

2) Grammar is definitely challenging in Polish and I agree with you, there is no getting around the fact that it has to be 'studied'.

3) Reading. Now come on Dominic, really, Lord of the Rings??? With the greatest respect there are plenty of people who couldn't tackle that in English let alone a foreign language, and the length of it! Short texts are the starting point for reading. Magazines are ideal for that as they contain articles of various lengths and ads which are very short. Committing to reading a long and complex text such as Harry Potter is far too much to expect of a learner.

definitely not a Polish-Polish dictionary.

Totally agree. Can't understand the thinking behind the OP's wish to use one.

@jacobmartin. You'll have an advantage if you've already learned a foreign language as it gives you an idea of how to approach acquiring another language. If not, then focus on the four strands of reading, writing, listening and speaking though speaking is definitely the most important no matter how imperfectly you may do it :) Language is about being able to communicate. I manage to communicate adequately in Polish most of the time even though my grammar is not good and I don't have a huge vocabulary but I can give and obtain information from people. For example, just yesterday a lady on the tram asked me for directions to a local school and I understood her and was able to give her the directions. Another time I helped a partially sighted lady with her shopping in the local supermarket. She couldn't read the labels but I could and could relay the information back to her and ask her what she needed. So you see that's what language is about. It's no use at all reading about Bilbo Baggin's 'eleventy- first birthday' but not knowing how to read the ingredients on a food label :))

By the way if you haven't already done so, learn the Polish alphabet asap. As it's a purely phonetic language you will then be able to read and pronounce correctly or even write pretty much any word as spelling is generally totally phonetic with a few exceptions.

I'll tell you a touching little tale. Last year, I saw an old lady who was struggling with a stick and a bag of shopping so I offered to help her and as we were walking along I apologised for my poor Polish and she said to me 'you may not have good Polish but you have a good heart' isn't that lovely! So you see that's what it's about, language is about being able to connect with other human beings. Good luck with it and enjoy your journey.
DominicB - | 2,707
23 Aug 2017 #4
Now come on Dominic, really, Lord of the Rings???

It was the first book I read in Polish (actually, four books). And then nine books by Sapkowski. And then all of the Harry Potter books. And about ten other books, including some Polish fine literature. That was fifty to seventy hours per week for about a year.

Not at all too much to ask of someone who has acquired a decent-sized basic vocabulary and has gone through Swan's grammar book. Much more time effective than dicking around with short texts and magazines. They are fine for relaxing, but not for serious learning. When I would take a break from reading, I would read Polityka, Tygodnik Powszechny (in it's heyday), Nasz Nocnik and other magazines just for fun.

As for it being intimidating, it sure is. It is one perverse language that is short on short-term rewards. Latin was a breeze by comparison.
Atch 23 | 4,057
23 Aug 2017 #5
Dominic the problem is that you're approaching language learning from a very personal perspective that won't work for everybody.

That was fifty to seventy hours per week for about a year.

So you spent up to ten hours per day reading in addition to your full time job? How realistic do you think that is for the average person? Don't be silly.

fine for relaxing, but not for serious learning

There is a medium ground between the two.

Here, have you ever seen this? I think you'll recognize some former colleagues, and indeed perhaps yourself!
OP jacobcmartin 1 | 3
23 Aug 2017 #6
[Totally agree. Can't understand the thinking behind the OP's wish to use one.]

The idea is that I would take a Polish work and read it, using context to figure out words that I haven't yet learned. When I get to words that I cannot figure out using context, I would look them up in the dictionary and see them defined in Polish to avoid translating between the languages. It's similar to immersion.
DominicB - | 2,707
23 Aug 2017 #7
The idea is that I would take a Polish work and read it, using context to figure out words.

Two mistakes here. First of all, you should look up every word you don't know, and not rely on context, which is not very reliable. Second, we are talking about tens of thousands of words, and the extra time it would take to look them up in a Polish-Polish dictionary would be considerable. Also, Polish-Polish dictionaries are not designed for learners, but for people who already speak fluent Polish. I've never cracked open a Polish-Polish dictionary myself. No need to, and no point in it, either.
Ziemowit 14 | 4,278
23 Aug 2017 #8
It's similar to immersion.

Totally agree with you. This is exactly the way how I used to teach myself English. This may seem very difficult at first, but is very rewarding and pays off over time enormously. At grammar school I was told to use the bilingual dictionary, but pretty soon I realized this suggestion was rubish. Anyone who genuinely wishes to have a pretty decent command of a foreign language should throw the biligual dictionary out of the house almost from the very start which is precisely what I did. Then they should buy themselves a good monolingual dictionary which should be neither too simple nor too detailed. In my case it was the "Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English". Some years ago I accidentally told someone I never had an English-Polish dictionary at home and this person was extremely surprised given the level of my English.

A bilingual dictionary is useful when you are already at an advanced stage and happen to look for words or phrases that are quite rare or specific.
Ziemowit 14 | 4,278
23 Aug 2017 #9
First of all, you should look up every word you don't know, and not rely on context, which is not very reliable.

Sometimes contexts are indeed not reliable, but in most cases they are. I have been working through a lot of contexts while learning English without a bilingual dictionary dictionary and I could guess the meaning of a particular word in most of them. This method is indeed similar to immersion as the OP said. Only immersion itself can be better. Let me tell you one example from my student time when I was totally immersed in English in the north of England. I once came across the phrase "Maggie Thatcher the milk snatcher" in which I could not understand the word 'snatcher". It is indeed impossible to work its meaning from this simple phrase only. When I asked my English friend what 'snatcher' meant, he simply snatched something from my hand. He sort of decided to serve as a monolingual dictionary to me. Believe me, if I looked the word up in a Polish-English dictionary, I would most probably forget the meaning in a day (the least difficult English words to remember for me were words of Latin/Norman/French origin, the most difficult were the Anglo-Saxon ones). If I looked this word up in a monolingual dictionary like the Longman dictionary I mentioned, I would have stood a much greater chance to fix it in memory as the dictionary illustrates its entries with definitions (or descriptions) and examples of use, that is contexts. So, when coming across such a phrase, I would definitely recommened a monoligual dictionary rather than a bilingual one, of course if you don't have a quick-witted Englishman right beside you which is the best method of them all.
OP jacobcmartin 1 | 3
23 Aug 2017 #10
I'm glad you found those methods effective for learning English. Is there a way for me to find a dictionary like you'd use in Poland? Whether or not the majority of Polish learners would use one, the point of this entire thread was where to find one.

Thanks for your help.
DominicB - | 2,707
23 Aug 2017 #11
Is there a way for me to find a dictionary like you'd use in Poland?

This is the best online version:
OP jacobcmartin 1 | 3
23 Aug 2017 #12
Great! Thanks. If you know of any that I could get in hard copy, that would be especially helpful for me since I prefer to use hard copy texts.
NoToForeigners 9 | 998
23 Aug 2017 #13
Keep in mind one thing. English is EASY and Polish is NOT. I have never had a single class in English. Never had a hard copy of any English elementary book. Yet I do speak and write in English quite well. I highly doubt you can achieve the same level in Polish without any of those I mentioned. Keep in mind that learning Polish will be much of a struggle. It will be way harder than learning English to a Pole (that's why many Anglophones are surprised about many Poles speaking English very well when they can't speak Polish themselves. That's after they actually meet them of course).

I wish you well and most importantly I wish you have plenty of patience and perseverance.
mafketis 36 | 10,850
24 Aug 2017 #14
Great! Thanks. If you know of any that I could get in hard copy, that would be especially helpful for me

That doesn't work well wtih Polish where there's not a huge tradition of using (monolingual) dictionaries. For an English speaker, used to using dictionaries all the time, it comes as kind of a shock to learn that Polish people mostly.... don't.

Monolingual dictionaries in Polish traditionally are either too small to be realy useful (if they exists at all) or too big to be really useful (except as reference books that aren't used too often).

Also, you kind of have to know Polish fairly well before you even know how to find words in the dictionary based on the form you see on the page.
Atch 23 | 4,057
24 Aug 2017 #15
find words in the dictionary based on the form you see on the page.

That's absolutely a key point. With a single noun having up to fourteen possible forms including plurals and those forms sometimes not looking remotely like each other..............I wonder if that's why dictionaries are not that popular in Poland, because they have limited usefulness and also perhaps because with the language being mainly phonetic there is less need to check spellings. Also the first Polish dictionary appeared relatively recently in the early nineteenth century, a time when Poland as a nation was about to 'disappear', so the political and social situation was not conducive to establishing the use of a Polish language dictionary.
mafketis 36 | 10,850
24 Aug 2017 #16
with the language being mainly phonetic there is less need to check spellings

Well they have special smaller dictionaries for that "słownik ortograficzny" since Polish people are convinced that Polish spelling is very, very difficult...

dictionaries are not that popular in Poland

Back in the early 90's it seemed every educated family had the big three volume monolingual dictionary on the shelf in the living room, but it didn't look like it got a bunch of use....
Ziemowit 14 | 4,278
24 Aug 2017 #17
Is there a way for me to find a dictionary like you'd use in Poland?

Several years ago when advising someone on a French forum I went to an EMPiK store in Warsaw in search of a good Polish momolingual dictionary which could be suitable for a foreign learner. I found quite a range of such dictionaries of which one seemed really perfect for that purpose. It was of a middle size and with excellent explanations for the entries, just as if they were meant for a foreign person learning Polish. I'll try to retrieve that old post of mine on that forum and if it is still there I will tell you later on what that dictionary was.

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