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Speaking the Language

Poland - Speaking the Language


More than 96% of residents in Poland identify themselves as Polish, whilst 1% of residents say they are Silesian. Other ethnic groups are even smaller, with German, Ukrainian and other origins amongst the census responses given for the remaining 2% of the population.

It is therefore not surprising that more than 98% of the population speak Polish as their first language, with a further 1% speaking Silesian at home.

Poland ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2009:

• Kashub is now recognised as a regional language
• Czech, Hebrew, Yiddish, Belarusian, Lithuanian, German, Armenian, Russian, Slovak, and Ukrainian are now recognised as national minority languages
• Karaim, Lemko, Romani (Polska Roma and Bergitka Roma), and Tatar are recognised as ethnic minority languages

Poland is a Slavic nation. This is an umbrella term encompassing many different ethnicities, cultures and languages. More than half of Europe’s land mass is populated by Slavic communities. However, not all Slavs are united and the wars in the former Yugoslavia show how ethnic identity can divide different slavic communities. Religious associations are also different within Slavic communities. Western slavic nations often follow the Roman Catholic church, whilst Eastern slavic communities often adhere to the Eastern Orthodox Church, with some small communities identifying as muslim. In Poland, more than 87% of the population say they are Catholic.

The lower secondary schools (for ages 9-13) in Poland teach two foreign languages to their pupils. The first is English, for which three lessons a week are delivered. A second foreign language is taught twice a week. Exams in foreign languages are taken by all pupils, with higher and lower levels of exam paper allocated according to the candidate’s ability.

As a result of the language teaching in schools, there is a significant percentage of younger Polish people who can speak basic conversational English. It will not be spoken perfectly if they have not used these language skills since school or travelled abroad much. It could perhaps be compared with the level of French spoken by most UK citizens, for whom French has been taught in schools for decades but is usually limited to conversational basics. That said, popular culture means young people in Poland do get more exposure to English outside the classroom.

Because of the trading links with nearby Germany, employees who can speak German well are in high demand. This is leading to a lot of opportunities both for German speakers and those who can teach German to others.

Many expats living in Poland manage to live comfortably without a working knowledge of Polish. This is particularly easy in the big cities, where sizeable expat communities exist and foreign companies allow the workspace to be dominated by English or German. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who do make the effort to speak Polish will be rewarded by greater friendliness and helpfulness by the customer service staff in shops and offices.

However, if you are intending to live in Poland for a length of time, or wish to experience life there beyond the confines of the expat bubble, you will need to obtain a working knowledge of Polish.

IKO have 20 years experience of teaching Polish to foreigners. They run short courses, standard courses and intensive classes to a variety of ability levels.

The University of Warsaw runs the “polonicum”. This is the oldest centre in Poland for teaching polish as a foreign language. It is run not just for for the University staff and students, but for anyone who wants to access its Polish courses. The range of classes include all ability and progression levels.

Online courses include supermemo, which offers a variety of levels and teaching methods.

Free online resources are also available at duolingo and memrise. Whilst the emphasis is on vocabulary, the programme also speaks the words which is useful for picking up listening comprehension skills.

TV in Poland is aired in Polish. For those who wish to watch TV in English, there are a few options with most requiring access to TV via the internet. Apps for BBC, ITV and Channel 4 can be downloaded and the programmes watched on a PC, tablet or phone. The BBC will ask if you have paid for a TV license. FilmOn is popular for free-view channels. Netflix is available on subscription, as is Adtelly.

There are plans for a news channel in English, called ‘Poland24’, to be launched in Poland in 2018. It will focus on events in Poland, and the aim is to show the world the characteristics and culture of Poland. It moves on from the current channel TVP Polonia, which broadcasts news about Poland to the Polish diaspora. TVP Polonia is a Polish speaking channel with optional English subtitles.

In addition to accessing radio stations via the internet, residents in Poland can listen to English radio stations produced in Poland. The most popular is Radio Poland, part of the state broadcaster’s portfolio.

Western newspapers in English are usually available in big cities on the day of publication, and are sold at kiosks. The titles include The Financial Times, the Herald Tribute and The Economist.

There are also a number of magazines available in English. They are popular with advertisers trying to break into the Polish market as expats often have a higher disposable income and may be more willing to try new products, especially those marketed in the right way. Some examples of magazines are:

• Poland Today: A bi-annual magazine read by politicians, opinion leaders and business leaders
• BizPoland Magazine: A bi-monthly magazine aimed at the business community and distributed to all the international chambers of commerce in the country
• Warsaw Business Journal: Also produces a range of other publications including those aimed at businesses investing in Poland, and the daily update Poland A.M.

The Warsaw Voice is a weekly English language magazine. Its printed edition sells over 10,000 copies a week, and it has a comprehensive website.

Online magazine The Krakow Post includes local news, culture, events, history, opinion and expat resources. The articles, produced in English, are written by local and expat contributors.


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