How to communicate with Polish people?
So you are planning to visit Poland, because you've heard it's still unspoiled, cheap and fairly friendly. You might have also heard that the food is great, women gorgeous and the party wild. And as all of this may be true at some places (but doubtfully at once ;)), you probably didn't predict any communication problems. But trust me, they are there.
As I am writing this post to my Polish audience, I try to help them with opening up to foreign language and finally starting to use it without any shame! It seems that only Polish people get somehow intimidated when they have to speak English (and in many cases other languages too), although they do know how to do it and they can understand a lot. This time I'd like to reverse the roles and teach you how to talk to Polish people in English (or any other foreign language).
1. Be patient.
When you arrive to Poland don't be surprised that people may not understand you or even pretend that they do, even though they don't, so please be patient and try to explain exactly what do you mean, even couple of times. When you are smiling and the person you are talking to can see that you are trying, (s)he will be more likely to get encouraged to speak more.
2. speak clearly
Polish people are scared to speak with native speakers becuase the laters usually speak very fast and sometimes carelessly. If you speak slowly and clearly you are more likely to be understood. It may seem unnatural or even funny to you, but it can really make a difference in a conversation. I remember my mum, who was absolutely paralized by talking to English-speaking person, even though she could understand fairly a bit. However, when that person spoke slowly and clearly, my mum started to speak as well, because she knew she wouldn't be judged. If such a small thing can help somebody to open up, why not to try it?
3. don’t use too much slang.
Everybody loves slang, in their own language, or sometimes in different language too, when they are very advanced. Nevertheless, be aware that slang is not something you will ever hear at Polish school, nor during private language lessons. Everything that is taught there focuses mostly on grammar and fancy vocabulary to make sure all the neccessary tests are passed in the future. Bearing that in mind, the best way to communicate is to use simple words and not care about sentences' structure. It is common that when Polish people hear native speakers for the first time, they are very surprised and confused by how many mistakes natives do! They can spot them right away!
4. Take a piece of paper and a pen with you.
When speech lets you down, you can use good old pen and paper to draw, write an address or show directions. Imagine that your interlocutor doesn't know the language well and can't answer your question. Don't panic, because the question may have been asked correctly and it is not your fault that you don't get along. A sheet of paper and a pen will help you. Most of the symbols are universal, besides drawings break the discomfort.
5. Download Polish dictionary.
Nowadays, it's no problem, because you can have a free dictionary on your phone. Did you know that you can download and use Google Translator offline? It also has the function of reading, even in slow motion, and although it is not ideal, it will certainly help you communicate. You can also ask Polish person to write what they want to say in Polish, so you will be able to easily translate it.
6. Learn 3 simple words in Polish.
Polish people absolutely love when foreigners try to speak Polish. I've never heard anyone who could do it perfectly, because Polish is extremely difficult and it can break your tongue, so don't be discouraged that you can't do it properly. Anyway, you can break the ice with it in almost any situation (even a serious one!), so it's good to know at least three simple words. Never ever swear, because it's rude. Instead, learn for example few slang words. Below you can find few examples:
spoko - no worries, it's cool
luz - chill out
siemano - hi there
zajebiście - hell yeah
chyba cię pogięło - you can't be serious
na zdrowie - cheers
7. be careful.
There are some people who would like to use the language barrier against you, so they are going to try to charge you more or offer you something of a worse quality, so be careful and don't be scared to say no. These situations usually occur in bigger cities, where foreign tourists are considered rich. In case you are not sure, you can always ask for help a different person.
Remember also that not every website has English translation, nor the owners speak English, especially if they are from the older generation. In the suburbs and smaller towns there might be no menus, train or bus schedules in English and not every travel guide can speak English, although it improved a lot within the past few years. Go and explore Poland anyway, because the best to offer is outside popular cities like Cracow, Warsaw or Gdansk (though they are beautiful and worth visiting too). But if you are up for a different kind of adventure, luxury village life at the private lake or visiting places that none of your friends ever heard of, please go to my Alternatively through Poland series for inspiration and if you have any questions or need help with organizing any trip to Poland, you can contact me anytime HERE or via e-mail: email@example.com
I will be more than happy to help!
And at last, if you've ever been to Poland before, please share your experiences and thoughts about communication with Polish people in the comments below, because I'm so curious to find out!