Friday 4 December 2015

Oh, Brain, Hurry Up!

Today is Polski Piątek, so if you're interested neither in language learning nor in Polish culture, click away now. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I am still working on Polish in 4 Weeks Level 2, and I am now in "Week 4", having this morning begun to memorize the opening dialogue to Chapter 23: Może powinniśmy wykorzystać twój pobyt w Polsce i pojechać do spa? ("Maybe we should take advantage of your stay in Poland and go to a spa?)  Every day I try to memorize 10 - 12 lines of dialogue. This daily habit is, I think, helping me with my spoken Polish. I noticed
yesterday that all these memorized words and phrases came in helpful in doing my homework, which was to write a passage about my job.

The biggest problem with Polish night school, I now realize, is that there are no exams to study for. Honestly, it isn't enough to go to a language night school course and just hope that repetition does the trick. You really have to memorize, test yourself, correct yourself, and memorize some more. It's hard work and it's almost painful, but it is necessary to get results

The biggest problem with learning Polish--outside Poland, anyway--is that improvement seems glacially slow. And I keep picking the wrong books to read. That is, I keep choosing children's books and then discovering that the language therein is at least slightly archaic. I put down W Pustyni i w puszczy when, at my friend's Polish wedding, a Pole told me that he too needed a dictionary to read Sienkiewicz. Sigh.

In contrast, I picked up an Italian easy-read book yesterday in the bookshop and read the first page easily despite not having reviewed Italian for a year. Had I been getting my Italian up to speed for four years, I would be fluent by now. Speaking as someone who is not good at languages, Italian is a snap compared to Polish.

But there is hope. I write in Polish now more often than I did before--usually by email--and if I make mistakes, at least my emails are legible.  Meanwhile, I'm just going to go ahead and try to read Antoni Libera's Madame. I adored it in English, reading it two or three times. The translation was written in excellent colloquial English, so it won't "match up exactly" with the Polish, but what the heck. I had might as well try. And, besides, if I want to learn to write like a Pole, I will have to learn to do it the way I learned to write like an English-speaker: by reading as much as possible.


  1. The memory drilling sounds agonising and probably the best thing you can do to improve your level right now, I've been doing grammar workbooks on the tube since I realised I can easily spend 4 hours a day with TfL.

    Maybe when the 5 years is up you can take a break with Italian?

    Speaking as someone who is also enthused by but not naturally gifted with languages, I really admire your dedication, and I do like these Friday updates.

    I'm thinking about setting a new year resolution to do the French DALF exam in two years, there's a similar Polish language state exam, maybe that would be something to think about? [] you have to travel to Poland to take it though.

    For writing practice, I've been using a website called lang-8, you submit texts on any topic and have them corrected sentence by sentence by a native speaker. The corrections I've received have been really helpful and detailed. One correction said, 'literary turn of phrase within a colloquial passage', which was quite pleasing! it's all anonymous, so you don't have to suffer the indignities of presenting your work to people you know! It works on a points system, every time you correct someone's work you accrue points which make your own passages appear higher up on other peoples corrections feed, but it doesn't take too long to correct a few beginners texts.

    I've asked for christmas money that I was going to spend on group classes, but I think instead I'm going to book some skype tutoring. I haven't tried it yet, but have researched two websites [verbling and italki] where you pay ~ £20 for an hour with a qualified native tutor. As someone who is both shy and proud, speaking practice is what always falls behind, so hopefully this will be the remedy.

    Would love a report if you try any of these and find them helpful!

  2. Eeek. I tried one of the have-things-judged-by-strangers sites and unfortunately, on my first time on Livemocha, an Italian completely dissed my Italian accent. I was so mortified, I never tried again. I suspect he was just trying to accrue points and was not really interested in co-teaching. The solution to my Italian pronunciation problem is probably "Tell Me More." "Tell Me More" is hella expensive, but my father has it for German, and he loves it.

    £20 is too much for me, so no to verbling and italki. I think the best solution for me is to save as much as possible and do an intensive course in Poland. Also I will start sending a Polish friend my "essays" to correct, either online, or with a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. I too am shy--but no longer proud (at least about Polish). I rejoice to say I can now hear "This is ALL wrong" with humility and even joy that now I shall learn something.

    Good luck with French!


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