According to some estimations, over 40 million people speak Polish worldwide. It has a fascinating history that includes both prominence and near extinction. As a Category III language, it can be challenging to learn. How long does it take to learn Polish?
Because Polish is difficult, it can take around 200 hours to grasp the basics. After another 200 hours, you can expect to reach an intermediate level. To progress to an advanced speaker, you may need as many as 550-900 hours of additional practice.
A brief history of Polish
Polish is part of the Slavic language family, which is the third-largest European language family. Because of Poland’s influence in the Medieval era, it became very common throughout Europe. By the end of the 18th century, Poland was no longer as powerful, so the language’s influence weakened, too. Both Russians and Germans tried to suppress the language, but it survived. Polish is now one of the European Union’s official languages.
Polish is tricky for a few reasons. The language’s grammatical word order can seem jumbled and random, while there are more declensions than in English. The alphabet is different, too! There are 32 letters. Nine are unique. On the other hand, there are no articles and once you learn the alphabet, Polish words are pronounced as they’re written.
How long it takes to learn the basics – alphabet differences, early vocabulary and grammar, and basic phrases and questions
Polish is a Category III language (a hard language on par with other Slavic languages like Russian) and according to PolishPod101.com, can take 200 hours to get the basics. As with any new language, you want to start by learning the alphabet and simple vocabulary words. Learning pronunciations early will help you significantly down the line because Polish words are pronounced phonetically. If you want to see improvements, you should practice every day. An hour is ideal, though that time can be distributed throughout the day. If an hour isn’t possible, aim for at least 10-20 minutes.
Grammar doesn’t need to be a huge focus for beginners, but you’ll probably learn some fundamentals. It’s more important to start learning basic phrases and questions, such as introducing yourself, asking what time it is, asking for directions, and so on. For beginners, the goal is to accomplish basic tasks (finding the bathroom, knowing the time, saying your name, etc) if you were in a situation where everyone only spoke Polish.
How long it takes to reach an intermediate level – more complex vocabulary, more complex topics, and better reading/writing skills
Once you have the basics down, it can take another 200 hours to reach an intermediate level. As with many languages, it can be harder to build on what you already know and move to more complex conversations. Practice your reading, writing, and speaking as often as you can. Ideally, you want a conversation partner who is more comfortable with the language than you, if not fluent. You can also hone your skills by watching Polish movies/TV shows, listening to music, and reading books.
The Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has an assessment grid for different mastery tiers. B1 and B2 speakers can understand the point of many TV shows, read more literary and job-related texts, engage more spontaneously in conversations, and write more detailed text on more subjects.
How long it takes to speak more fluently – understand fast speakers, talk about complex, abstract topics, and write easily
Fluency is hard to measure, but it takes a while to reach this level in Polish. PolishPod101.com estimates about 550-900 hours to achieve level C1. That means in total, it takes about 950-1,300 hours to learn Polish. At this point, you’re rarely making mistakes. Speaking Polish at an advanced level feels nearly as natural as speaking your native language.
Every part of the language – listening, speaking, reading, and writing – comes easily and includes complex topics like politics, work, feelings, and so on. You can talk easily with everyone, understand and properly use slang, and jump into any conversation. People at this level also have a deeper understanding of cultural differences, media, and politics.
Why should you learn Polish?
For most people, learning Polish could take 2-5 years of consistent practice. Why should you spend so much time learning this language? Here are three reasons:
#1: You’ll get a lot more out of your vacation
Poland is one of Europe’s most interesting – and underrated – places to visit. According to CultureTrip, it has 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, affordable prices, and gorgeous landscapes. Knowing even a bit of the language will help you find the most intriguing places, engage with more people, and feel more confident.
#2: It helps you learn other Slavic languages
Polish has its own unique rules, but once you know one Slavic language, the others become a bit easier. There are currently 20 Slavic languages including Russian, Ukrainian, Slovak, and Bulgarian, so once you know Polish, you’ll have a leg up. Why not learn Russian first, which is the most common Slavic language? There’s debate about whether Russian is easier or harder than Polish, but one big difference is the alphabet. Russian uses a Cyrillic alphabet while Poland shares the Latin alphabet with languages like English, German, French, and Spanish. If you don’t want to learn a whole new alphabet just yet, Polish is a great Slavic language to start with.
#3: It paves the way for career opportunities in Europe
Whether you want to live in Poland or have opportunities to travel there for work, knowing Polish will significantly help your chances. It’s not as commonly known as languages like Russian, German, or French, so you’ll likely face less competition. Even if you aren’t moving to Poland, just knowing the language can lead to more work opportunities with/for Polish companies and communities.
What skills do you need to learn Polish?
What are you taking on when you decide to learn Polish? What skills are you going to stretch and strengthen? Here are three of the most important ones:
Skill #1: Good pronunciation
Unless you have Polish-speaking friends or family, Polish is not usually a language most people hear a lot. When you see Polish written and then hear it, it can be intimidating. There are often a lot of consonants really close together. When you decide to learn Polish, remember that pronunciation can change a word’s meaning. Also, remember that words are pronounced phonetically according to the Polish alphabet! If you master this skill, your conversations will go a lot smoother.
Skill #2: Good organization
Learning Polish is a big commitment. Your improvement lives or dies by how organized you are. Are you following a study plan, either in the form of a good curriculum or something you’ve designed yourself? Do you have workbooks, flashcards, and/or a learning app? There are tons of resources online that can help you organize your materials and notebook. A lot of the learning process involves looking back at your notes, so taking more time to be organized now makes life much easier in the future.
Skill #3: Persistence
Learning any new language requires a lot of persistence and patience. Polish is no exception, especially since it’s one of the more difficult languages for English speakers. If you already know another Slavic language, you’re lucky! There will still be some persistence required, however, so brace yourself for times of frustration. There will be many days when you don’t feel like practicing, but even just 10 minutes a day keeps you on track.
What tools do you need to learn Polish?
What materials and resources should you collect before starting to learn Polish? Here are four:
#1: A good curriculum
There are a few ways to learn Polish. You can take a class, buy a book, or create your own plan using videos, articles, and more. There are also apps (like Duolingo and Babbel) that can be very useful for beginners.
#2: Polish media
Immersing yourself in Polish culture as much as possible can help speed up the learning process. Thankfully, you don’t need to be in Poland to find Polish-language movies, books, music, and podcasts. There are even podcasts specifically created to help new speakers.
#3: A notebook
Learning to write Polish is as important as listening, speaking, and reading. With your notebook, you can organize grammar structures and vocabulary words. As you improve your writing, consider keeping a daily journal in Polish. Write about the topics you’re familiar with in the form of postcards, letters, stories, and so on. You’ll notice your writing gets more complex over time.
#4: A conversation partner
When learning a new language, it’s essential to have conversations in that language. You can improve your writing and reading fairly well on your own, but conversations require levels of flexibility and quick thinking not present in other situations. You may have someone you can practice with already, but if you don’t, there are tutoring services online that hire native speakers.
How to learn Polish
Polish is tricky because of things like its alphabet and pronunciation, but a good study plan helps the process go as smoothly and quickly as possible. Your best bet is to learn about Poland’s history and culture alongside the language. Listen to music, watch movies, and read books. When you’re a beginner, try to avoid getting bogged down with grammatical rules. Focus on vocabulary and basic phrases. There are a lot of things you can learn to say before fully understanding why sentences work the way they do. When you’re more confident, you can go back to the grammar. Try to practice Polish every day for at least 10 minutes. If you want to improve faster, an hour is better. According to the Foreign Service Institute, it takes about 1,100 class hours to learn Polish, but it’s likely to take many people longer.