Friday, 20 January 2017

The Return of Polski Piątek

When I came back from Poland in late November, I regarded my Polish language obsession from a
critical distance. My self-esteem was bruised back and blue by my inability to have proper conversations in Polish when I really needed to do so. Okay, yes, I muddled through, but I have spent so much time and money, I feel I should not still be at the muddling stage. 

So I wrote to my Polish teacher in Polish without a dictionary (so as to put any mistakes on full display) and asked if I shouldn't be busted down to a more introductory class. (I later sent this letter to a Polish friend, so that he could explain to me all the mistakes.) However, my teacher thought I should go into the most advanced class, so to 3.2 I went last night. 

It was good to be back. I had missed 3.1 so as to save the money towards my Polish trip, and I discovered that I really missed the classroom routine. Yesterday's class was a review of 3.1, so there were a range of exercises, beginning with a conversation about the Christmas holidays and what dishes we found most delicious. 

I prepared for class by writing a composition about my adventures in Poland. This forced me to "think in Polish" for two hours before class began. Although I have read Polish--emails and letters mostly--I haven't spoken a word of it since I bought a festive bottle of krupnik from a polski sklep on Christmas Eve.

However, it became clear to me in class that although I can get words down on a page relatively quickly and can understand most of what the teacher says, accessing Polish words I have known for years and speaking them is really my weakest skill. I mean, we're talking forgetting how to say, "Nie rozumiem" ("I don't understand"), which was on of the first phrases I ever learned. 

Another difficulty is repeating multisyllabic words the teacher has just said. It's as if I have a verbal form of dyslexia, for I mix up the order of the letters. I do this in English, too, driving B.A. to distraction by calling the Artisan Roast  coffee company "Artisian Roast" and the Penhaligon perfumers "Penhaglion." This makes me feel a bit better about my most obvious and public Polish errors.

My tangled tongue made my classmates laugh last night, and so I suppose my most notable improvement is that for once I did not feel angry and embarrassed.  And when our task was to assemble scraps of a conversation in a shoe store, my seatmate and I finished it first. Although I may sound ridiculous, there is nothing wrong with my reading and deducing skills. 

Oh dear. I wonder how best to train my brain to faster recall and my tongue to tripping out the syllables in the correct order. Perhaps I should start chatting to a tape recorder. Although certainly not ideal, that would be better than nothing. 


  1. We often get English Language Learners (ELLs) in the classroom, and we have a resource teacher devoted completely to the needs of these students. She once in-serviced us teachers and told us the stages of becoming fluent in a language. I forget all the particulars, but actually speaking the language conversationally, thinking of what you want to say and then saying it, is the last skill to come. I can imagine you are very eager to master this skill, but you're making good progress in the other areas of mastery...I am sure this last will come in due course.

  2. Nothing beats pure conversational practice. Butchering your way through a friend's native language is a special type of hell, but if there's any possible way you can swing regular chats with a Pole you don't already know I'd forgo group lessons to do/pay for it. Surely there must be thousands of low-paid Poles in Edinburgh who'd be delighted to meet you for an hour's coffee if you bought the drinks and paid £15?

    For recitation (not spontaneous oral-composition), what about daily prayer in Polish? Maybe the two-birds-with-one-stone attitude is inappropriate, but you can get the Office in Polish here:

    1. Oh good idea! Nothing wrong with daily prayer!

      I have in the past done language exchange with Poles. Perhaps it is time to get back to that...

  3. Maybe look into plants that aid with memory and brain function such as gingko?