The Polish Alphabet is Easy!
When people unfamiliar with Polish see it written, they are often struck by the strange marks and all the consonants in a row. How can you pronounce words like "szczęśliwy" or "brzmieć"? Although it looks a little strange, the Polish alphabet is actually quite easy.
In English, spelling doesn't relate to pronunciation in a consistent way. For example, compare the pronunciation of "oo" in the following words: book, soon, door, flood. It's different in every word! And there's no way to know that from looking at the words.
I am a native speaker of English, but even I have had the following situation happen to me several times: I know a few words from reading which I have never heard out loud. Later, I'll hear someone say a word and have no idea what it means, only to find out that I know the word, I just imagined that it was pronounced differently. Or even more embarrassingly, sometimes I'll try to say one of these words, but with with the wrong pronunciation -- and other people don't know what I'm talking about!
This can never happen in Polish! Once you have the hang of all the pronunciation rules, you will always be able to correctly pronounce any word from the spelling.
Keep reading to see resources and advice for learning the Polish alphabet!
Learning the alphabet
The best way to learn the Polish alphabet (or any alphabet) is to hear how words are pronounced, while at the same time seeing how they are spelled. Do this is as much as possible as possible and occasionally reviewing the pronunciation rules.
This is much easier and more effective than trying to memorize tables or reading descriptions of every letter (ie. "b = b as in bad, c = ts as in cats").
Over time you will internalize the rules and no longer need to think about them. This should be done along with other learning in Polish and will probably take you about a month.
Warning: If you are just starting to learn Polish, don't try to "learn the alphabet first"! Seriously.
Most beginning Polish textbooks and courses start with the alphabet. Even if this weren't the case, many learners consider themselves "visual learners" and chose to try and master the alphabet before moving on.
This is a terrible idea!
- Without having exposure to Polish, some rules won't make sense. You need to learn Polish and its alphabet at the same time.
- Internalizing the rules happens gradually. If you try to master all the rules at once, you will never move on! It will frustrate you and seem like there are tons of rules. Yes, there are a few rules, but once you internalize a rule, you forget it even exists.
There are many great resources on the web.
Below are two videos from Learn Polish with Greg which introduce the Polish alphabet:
"Polish Sounds" Part 1:
"Polish Sounds" Part 2:
More video lessons (covering the same material as above):
- Polish Lessons -- Unit 1 - This first video goes over all the letters at once. If you follow links to the subsequent units, there is a video for every letter/combination. In all, there are 45 units. Each video is about one minute in length and contains 17 Polish words.
- Polish Pronunciation Guide - Includes an example word and sentence with each letter/combination.
- "Polish pronunciation" from WikiBooks - Just like the traditional alphabet description you find at the beginning of most Polish textbooks, but also includes IPA spellings and audio for each letter. Very complete, but dry.
- Polish on Forvo - Audio of Polish native speakers pronouncing almost 7,000 words. You can also request new words (click "Add word") to be pronounced by native speakers. Very useful if you hit a problematic word but don't have a teacher or native speaker around to ask.