I recently took a trip to Kraków in Poland with my sister, and it was the first time in a long time that I had visited somewhere and I didn’t speak the local language. I had forgotten how different knowing how to speak the local language makes your trip. Kraków, Poland During our first day […]
Kieran Ball, Foreign language teacher and creator of 3 Minute Languages
I recently took a trip to Kraków in Poland with my sister, and it was the first time in a long time that I had visited somewhere and I didn’t speak the local language. I had forgotten how different knowing how to speak the local language makes your trip.
our first day in Poland, I felt very awkward not being able to say
anything in Polish. I didn’t even know how to say “hello”. I had
originally planned to learn a few phrases before going, but I didn’t get
around to it and I immediately regretted it.
a few embarrassing attempts at trying to make ourselves understood in
shops or restaurants, my sister and I whipped out our phones, and headed
straight to Google Translate. The trouble with using normal
dictionaries was that I had no idea how to pronounce any words in
Polish, and with a couple of letters I didn’t even recognise, Google
Translate proved invaluable with its speaker button that reads the word
out for you.
sister had downloaded an app that you could use to translate things
simply by pointing your camera at them, but I didn’t want to rely on
that as I wanted to be able to speak the language rather than just read
it all in English. As we walked about the very beautiful city of Kraków,
we typed hundreds of words into Google Translate. The words on street
signs were the first things we were translating. It didn’t really matter
to me what they meant; I just wanted to figure out how to pronounce
things. We learnt that the letter “C” is pronounced like a “TS”, a “CH”
sounds like you’re clearing your throat, and a “CZ” sounds like a “CH”.
We also learnt that the letter “W” sounds like a “V”, and there is a
letter L with a line through it, “Ł”, that sounds like a “W”.
a couple of hours, we had learnt a lot of new words that probably
weren’t useful directly, but we saw them all over the place, and they
taught us basic Polish pronunciation rules.
Ulica — Street (pronounced “oo-leet-sah”) Koniec — End (pronounced “koh-nee-ets”) Uwaga — Attention (pronounced “oo-vah-gah”) Pracowników — Employees (pronounced “prat-sov-nee-kov”) Restauracja — Restaurant (pronounced “rest-a-oo-rat-syah) Wolny — Free (pronounced “vol-nee”) Smok — Dragon (pronounced “smok”) Złoty — Zloty (the Polish currency, pronounced “zwo-tee”)
I realised how much of a geek I was because I found it exciting to spot
a new word and try to work out how to pronounce it. I used the speaker
button on Google Translate to check if I got it right.
second day in Poland was much more fulfilling than the first day,
simply because we started to use words and phrases that we had been
learning. We learnt:
Dzień dobry — Hello Dziękuję — Thank you Do widzenia — Goodbye Chciałbym — I would like Proszę — Please Rachunek — The bill
with these words and phrases, we were unstoppable in Kraków! Although
there were some people who seemed a bit put off by us trying out our
Polish (namely one girl in a restaurant, whom, in hindsight, we did
pester to death with our attempts at speaking her language), most people
were happy that we were trying. We felt much more a part of Poland,
simply by using these few words.
first time I said “Dziękuję” (thank you), I was intensely nervous, but I
bit the bullet, and said it…wrong. But after hearing it being said a
couple of times by native speakers, my second attempt was much more
successful, and once that wall had been bulldozed down, I was saying
“Dziękuję” left, right and centre. Pretty soon, my sister and I were
saying a Polish hello to everybody we saw, a Polish goodbye to everybody
we left, and we were saying a Polish please and thank you after
virtually every utterance.
were riding a real high on day two, but it wasn’t to last. On the
second day, after a successful evening ordering in a restaurant, we
decided to go to a local supermarket to reward ourselves with some
chocolate and biscuits. We also picked up a bag of cornflakes for
breakfast the next morning, and it was that bag of cornflakes that
destroyed our day’s achievements. We had got quite a hoard of items in
the supermarket, so we decided that we needed to ask for a bag at the
checkout. I remembered how to say “I would like” (chciałbym) and then I
quickly searched for “bag” on Google Translate: “torba”. At the checkout
counter, the lady scanned the bag of cornflakes, and my sister and I
both said “hello” in Polish, which was received with a smile. However,
the lady picked up the bag of cornflakes and uttered a very long
sentence, and I understand not one word. I looked at my sister, for some
reason assuming she had secretly acquired Polish fluency and could tell
me what the Polish lady was saying, but her face was as perplexed as
mine. “Sorry?” I asked in English, but the Polish lady said something
else, pointing at the bag of cornflakes. She didn’t speak any English
and I only knew a handful of Polish words and I couldn’t work out what
she was trying to say.
must have been less than a minute seemed like an eternity as the lady
kept talking and talking and I was left clueless. As she went on, she
seemed to get angry at us for not understanding what she was saying, so I
carefully took the cornflakes out of her hand and handed over the
money. Then I remembered I needed to ask for a bag, “Chciałbym torba” (I
would like a bag). The lady obviously understood because she threw a
plastic bag at me (I may be exaggerating a tad, but fear magnified the
situation). We both laughed about it on the way back to the hotel, and
then we decided to go into another shop to get some more chocolate, and
we forced ourselves to say “hello”, “thank you” and “I would like a bag,
may never ever find out what that lady was trying to tell us about
those cornflakes, but they were the weirdest cornflakes we had ever
eaten, so it was probably a warning or a recommendation to buy something
else. Either way, we managed to put the whole incident behind us and
started the next day afresh, eager to try and speak more Polish.
rest of the trip to Poland was wonderful and heart wrenching at the
same time, as we visited Auschwitz, Birkenau and then explored the rest
of the city of Krákow. It felt as though I were starting from scratch
with language learning, and it was a great experience to get back in the
mindset of a complete beginner. There are a lot of things I learnt:
1. Speak as much as you can from the get-go
is the most important thing to do. My sister and I were both nervous
about using the language, seeing as we hardly knew a thing, but we
forced each other to speak. Even though, 95% of the time, we didn’t
understand what was being said back to us, we still spoke as much as we
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
pronounced things wrong, got blank faces to our early utterances and
had to repeat ourselves several times, but through our mistakes we
improved. Don’t be worried even the slightest bit about making mistakes;
who cares? A couple of times, I said something and got a blank look
from the other person, but then I just said, “I’m practising my Polish,”
and said it again. A mistake is only a problem if it stops you from
moving on. Just put a mistake behind you and try, try, try again.
3. Don’t be put off by awkward situations
amount of confused faces we got from the people we were speaking to was
about the same as the amount of smiling faces we got. Most people were
overjoyed when we said something in Polish, but there were a few very
awkward situations. The cornflake incident, for instance. And then there
was a waitress in one particular restaurant on a boat, who I think got
sick of our constant pestering for attention. Every time she came to our
table, my sister or I would say something else like “the food was
delicious” or “this is very tasty” or “can I have the bill?”, and I
think she just wanted to get on with her job!
4. Have fun with using the language and laugh at yourself
sister laughed and laughed and laughed at my every attempt to speak
Polish. It was fun to try and say different things, and I did go out of
my way to try and show off, especially with one of our tour guides.
“There goes the teacher’s pet,” my sister laughed every time I tried to
say something else in Polish to the poor tour guide who was trying to
show us around the Jewish Quarter of the city. If you take language
learning too seriously, you take the fun out of it. Speaking a new
language should be fun and exciting; it opens up a new world for you.
Don’t be embarrassed about trying out new words and phrases, and if you
make a mistake, laugh at yourself and try again; you’ll improve much
more quickly that way.
5. Don’t try to overcomplicate things
I travel to France or Spain, I can say whatever springs to mind and
have in-depth conversations with people, but when I was in Poland, my
Polish was extremely limited. Therefore, I wasn’t able to say everything
I wanted, exactly as I wanted. This is an important thing to note when
you start learning a language. Try and simplify everything at first. I
wanted to be able to say, “Can I have the bill?” or “Could we have two
hot chocolates?” or “Do you have a plastic bag?”, but I didn’t know “Can
I have” or “Could we have” or “Do you have”. Instead, I just had to use
“chciałbym”, which means “I would like”, for everything. It didn’t
matter though, it’s better to say something simply than to say nothing
6. Ask for help if you need it
hardest thing for me when learning new Polish words was how to
pronounce them. I wanted to make sure I was saying things right, so I
kept badgering our tour guide and asking about how to say this, that and
the other. Don’t worry about annoying people if you need to ask them
for help. As it happens, our tour guide was happy to answer our
questions about the pronunciation rules, and she even explained other
things we hadn’t thought of. However, not everybody will be willing, and
don’t be worried about that; the girl on the boat restaurant wasn’t so
keen to help me or my sister with our pronunciation, but we still asked
anyway, laughing between ourselves like little school children whenever
the waitress walked off with a look on her face that said she had had
enough of us.
7. Listen as much as you can and be proud if you understand just one word
from the very outset, you should listen to as much of the language as
you can. My sister and I earwigged every conversation we could, without
seeming too creepy. We nodded at each other whenever we heard a word we
recognised. We didn’t have a clue as to what the rest of the
conversation was about, but even after just two days, we were
recognising lots of words. We got very excited when we were eating
breakfast at the hotel and the lady came over and asked for our room
number. We knew what she was saying because we recognised the word
“pokój” (room). We had seen the word when we were noseying in an estate
agent’s window the day before.
enjoy your travels and your language learning; it should be a fun
experience with lots of laughs. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and
take every opportunity to practise what you’ve learnt.
Kieran Ball, Foreign language teacher and creator of 3 Minute Languages
Hello, bonjour, hola, hallo, ciao and olá!
I’m Kieran and I’m a language tutor based in the UK, and I also create online courses and write books to make language learning accessible to all.
My books and online courses are based on the methodology I developed for teaching languages, which I've been using in all my classes for many years. The methodology will get you speaking quickly, without the struggle normally associated with language learning.
I’ll not bore you with my life story or intricate details of the history of the methodology; I know you probably just want to start learning now, so I’ll let you get on with it.
I have created three series of language courses available in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese. They're called: '3 Minute Languages', 'Building Structures' and 'Quick Guides'.
3 Minute Languages
The 3 Minute Languages courses are perfect for the complete beginner. They will get you speaking a language from scratch, assuming you know absolutely nothing. You will be amazed at how quickly you’re able to put sentences together. And you will memorise new words and phrases easily without even trying.
Click the links below to access the 3 Minute Languages courses:
The Building Structures courses are a revolutionary way to look at foreign language acquisition; you will learn how any language can be broken down into around fifteen structures. Each course focuses on a different structure, and you will learn how to form it, make it negative and turn it into a question. Each structure gives you a huge amount to say, and once you’ve learnt all fifteen structures, you will know everything about the language. All you have to do is fill in the gaps with words to form a sentence. These courses are for students who are slightly familiar with the language, and what to boost their progress.
Click the links below to access the Building Structures courses:
The Quick Guides are grammar guides. I recommend these for students who have already been learning the language, and would like to accelerate your learning. The Quick Guides are perfect for anybody who wants an in-depth look at a specific grammar point within the language.
Click the links below to access the Quick Guides courses:
In other news, my 3 Minute Languages courses have made the list for 2018 "Best Online Courses" by the company "Online Courses Review"
Thank you for all your support :-)
The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.
Learning Another Language is a Valuable Asset to Your Life.
Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter
“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”
- MARCUS AURELIUS