Sunday, September 9, 2007

Learning Polish

Though I’ll be teaching in English and people we’ve talked to who have visited major cities in Poland recently say the younger people often speak English, the Fulbright people have told us we should not expect most everyday Poles (people working in restaurants, buses, taxis, grocery stores, our doormen, etc.) to speak English and that learning a little Polish would be a good idea. On the advice of a colleague who spent the last year in Armenia, I’ve purchased the Pimsleur program CDs to try to learn to speak a little Polish. The key word here being speak. It’s all a “listen and repeat” process and the instructions specifically tell you not to try to write out the sounds or look them up in a phrase book to see how they are spelled as it would “interrupt the learning process.” I’ve discovered my ear is not very good and I simply cannot make my tongue comply to produce some of the sounds (can tsch-zch really be a word?) Surprisingly, in addition to the Slavic ch’s and tz’s, I think many words in Polish sound Japanese or Italian. If someone said to you “Toe tam, toe nee tu tie” you wouldn’t necessarily think they were speaking Polish. (“It’s over there, it’s not here.” Remember, I don’t know how these words are actually spelled in Polish, it’s just what the words on the CD sound like to me.) I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” in which she talks about learning Italian and developing a fondness for a particular word. My favorite Polish phrase sounds like “o givianti” – but that’s how I would spell it, because it sounds very Italian to me. I think “oh gee-ve-AHN-te” is beautifully musical in the way it rolls off one’s tongue (and I can actually say it). Gilbert’s favorite Italian word not only sounded beautiful, it's meaning also captured the essence of her inner journey that she writes about in her book. Very profound. My wonderful Polish phrase "oh gee-ve-AHN-te" means “at nine o’clock.”

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