Learning Polish (and any language) Fast!

Learning Polish Fast [Michael Kimmig]

Image: Michael Kimmig

We never take advantage of the whole repertoire of vocabulary of a language when we communicate. In everyday life conversations we use around 2000 words. From a language learning point of view, it’s very efficient to know these 2000 words to be able to understand most of the communication around you. 

Getting Started Learning Polish

If you use your mother tongue in everyday life, you usually rely on a very limited repertoire of vocabulary. Everybody does. If you break it down, in everyday life conversations you use approximately 2000 words. From a language learning point of view, if you know these 2000 words, you are able to understand about 80% of everyday life communication around you. 

Wouldn’t it be great to understand most of the communication in Polish around you?

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine what you would be capable of when you could understand 80% of the language around you… – you can read all the billboards and advertisements, you are able to follow easily everyday conversations, you are equipped to attend team meetings at work, you are able to connect better with the people you work with, you can follow your favourite TV serial in Polish, go out and see Polish films, and many more things…

It might change your attitude and feelings: You feel more connected with people around you, you feel that you’ve finally arrived in a new culture, you are more assertive and independent from others and you might even feel more empowered to step out of your comfort zone and try out new things.

The 80:20 Rule

The basic idea of the 80:20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is that in many areas of life, you get 80% of the outcomes with a 20% effort. Applying this principle to language learning means, that instead of focusing on several thousand words in the Polish language – you focus on and learn those which give you a maximum outcome (understanding 80% of everyday life conversations) with a minimum input (20% of your energy).

A Road Map for Learning Polish

Being able to understand most of the communication around you…

Would you like to get there?

Let’s create your Road Map that enables you to get yourself into learning 2000 words.

What would you like to achieve?

Here are three steps to take if you would like to set yourself a goal for learning Polish.

Step #1: Pick a goal for yourself

When would you like to reach this level? Let’s say you are going to stay one year in Poland. When would you like to be able to understand 80% of the language around you? 

In 4 months, or as fast as possible?
In 6 months, in the middle of your stay abroad 
In 12 months, at the end of your stay

Decide on one of these 3 options (or any other number of months) and write it down.

“I want to understand 80% of the communication around me in _____ months”

Step #2: Break it into pieces

2000 words seems to be a big deal. What does it mean exactly? – To find out, use this simple formula:

2000 words   =   xy days in the future  x   words to learn per day

Let’s say you would like to reach this point as soon as possible, say within 3 months (= 120 days)

2000 words  =   120 days   x   words to learn per day

2000 devided through 120, that’s 17 words to learn every day.

Step #3: Adjust you goal

Scary? Too many? – Maybe you’ll feel better, if you give yourself 6 months (= 240 days), to still take advantage of your language competence in the second part of your service… 

2000 words  =   240 days   x   words to learn per day

That makes about  8 words per day. That’s manageable.

Well, you know yourself best. You know how you learn most effectively and how easy it is for you to stick to a plan. You know how often you procrastinate and what it takes to move forward again. 

Adjust your goal according to the amount of work you are ready to put in. Be honest with yourself about how much of your time and energy you are ready to invest. It’s your decision to make!

Choose something that is not too demanding (so that you can still manage) 
and not too unchallenging (stretch yourself enough!).

Now that you have your road map, let’s talk about some strategies.

7 Strategies for Language Polish

The following strategies will help you understanding, listening and communicating.


Strategy #1: Pick a goal

This one, we already ticked off! 

Imagine what you can do with your language competence when you reach this level. 

You will be able to read all the billboards and advertisements in the streets.
You are able to follow easily everyday conversations and attend team meetings at work.
You are able to connect better with the people you work with.
You can follow your favourite TV serial in Polish.
You can go out and see Polish films.

And many more things… – What is it for you?

How does your attitude and feelings change?
You does it feel to be more connected with people around you? To feel that you’ve finally arrived in a new culture?
How would it be to be more assertive and independent from others? To feel more empowered to step out of your comfort zone and try out new things?

Visualise the outcome. Imagine it for yourself. Make the vision your strongest motivator!

Strategy #2: Break it into smaller steps

2000 words – still a scary number? How to get into a routine learning 5 / 10 / 15 or even more new words every day? – Break it into pieces. You have two options:

(1) Start learning 1 new word every day, make it 5 after a few days and then go to 10 words per day, etc. After 2-3 weeks you reach the number of words you are able to take in. Keep it up.

(2) Take the first list of 10 new words. Learn and remember them. Take another one with 50 new words, then go for a 100 words list. Work yourself up to 500 words and then go for 1000. Le voila. You’re almost there!

Word-list collections to get started with…

PolishPod101 Polish Core 100 Word List
Quizlet Most Commonly Used Polish Words
Quizlet Polish Crash Course / Basic Expressions
Find more flash card collections on Quizlet or Brainscape.

Strategy #3: Make time and space for learning

New words won’t come easily and from alone. You need to put in a lot of effort. 

Learning a new language takes time and space. And you need to reserve this time and space in your daily schedule. Whether you use a calendar or not, you should block time-spots for learning Polish every day. 15 minutes, 20 minutes (or 2×10 minutes), 30 minutes (or 2×15 minutes), etc. per day. 

Try to use additional “waiting times” throughout the day to learn and revise new words. If you are living together with other volunteers, why not learn together? You won’t watch your favourite serial, if everyone around you is learning Polish, will you?


Strategy #4: Expose yourself to Polish

Polish language has a lot of unfamiliar (or should I say strange) sounds for those who do not know Central or Eastern European languages. It takes some time to get used to it.

Listen to the radio (instead of your playlist), watch TV, go and see some Polish movies. Spend some time in coffee places, at bus stops and vegetable markets, go and join some local events, take part in team meetings, common coffee breaks and social events at work, etc. 

If you expose yourself to the Polish language, you will be more aware of your progress. First, you will identify single words, later you might catch the general sense of what people are talking about until you understand more and more phrases and expressions. 

It will also make speaking Polish easier.


Understanding more and more conversations around you is very motivating in learning a new language. However, speaking another language and communication can be quite a barrier. 

There are learners who don’t mind making mistakes and start speaking even with a very limited range of vocabulary, while others will start communicating only when they are almost perfect in another language. With some languages you can start speaking right from the beginning. With Polish… I doubt it. 

For me learning Polish left me for quite long with the impression that I was already able to understand very much, but I still couldn’t get over a small-talk level and really express myself.

So, let’s talk about a few strategies that can help you get over the barrier of communicating in Polish. 

Strategy #5: Learn phrases, not just words

When exposed to a language we don’t only recognise single words, but various common phrases.  They range from basic phrases such as “Jak się masz?” and “Co słychać?” to more sophisticated ones like “Dziękuję za pomoc.”. We process these as single entities rather than individual words.

Learning phrases has three advantages: first, it adds context to words that may be otherwise difficult to remember. Second, it allows you to recognise blocks of words (so called “chunks”), making overall comprehension more fluid. And third, phrases are very practical and can be used immediately in communication.

Most of the newer flashcard sets offer sample sentences that you can immediately use. If you make your own flashcards, e.g. on Quizlet or Memrise , make sure they consist of phrases.

Strategy #6: Communication first, grammar later

Just a reminder: Learn what you can immediately put to use in your work context, your free time and everyday life. Don’t worry too much about grammar at that stage. When you learn phrases, you learn different word combinations, e.g. “I’m going to the cinema” (Idę do kina), or “I’m going for a walk” (Idę na spacer). You can learn the specific rules about “going TO … (a place)” and “go FOR … (a walk)” later.

What you need for communication is a just a question (Idziemy na spacer?) and an answer (Tak, idziemy!), that you can use and practice the next day.

Strategy #7: Read with your mouth

You probably know this situation: You would like to say something, the words are at the tip of the tongue, you try to remember the correct pronunciation, stumble over some “szcz” and what comes out does not at all sound like Polish.

Any foreign language consists of unfamiliar sounds. Pronouncing new and unfamiliar words you might have to use other muscles of your face and you’re just not used to it. So, reading a word, repeating it in your head is not enough, because you will stumble over it as soon as you want to say it out loud – just because your muscles are not trained enough. 

Learning a new language is like running: You can’t do it just in your head. So read with your mouth, say it out loud. And when it feels uneasy and starts aching, you’re on the right track… 

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Three more things

Decision – Discipline – Determination

No system will do the work for you, it can only support your learning.

Behind all learning systems, rules and strategies there is YOU.

You are in charge.

There are no shortcuts. 

What you need to bring in can be summarized with three D’s: decision, discipline and determination.

(1) At the beginning you need to make a clear decision:
Do I really want it? Am I ready to get started?

(2) To get started and build a routine you need discipline:
Do I want to put all the effort and work in? Am I ready to establish my own learning routine? Face and overcome barriers in the beginning?

(3) And to get going till the very end, you need determination:  
Do I want to reach my goal? Am I ready and willing to go to the end, including all ups and downs? Fight procrastination and keep myself on track?

Again, it is you who is in charge.

Keep learning! 

Read more…

Learn Polish Online | Free Online Platforms and Apps to Learn and Improve your Polish
Self-Assessment of your Language Competence with the European Language Passport (ELP)
Thoughts about Language: Seven Language Quotes

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Learning Polish Fast [Gaelle Marcel via unsplash]Learning Polish Fast [Reinhart Julian via unsplash]