Colloquial Polish – The Complete Course for Beginners


Colloquial Polish –
The Complete Course for Beginners
By Boleslaw W. Mazur
Routledge – £39.27

I guess there are language books and there are language books, but when it comes to Routledge, they really do take an awful lot of matching up to, let alone beating.

Take Colloquial Polish- The Complete Course for Beginners by Boleslaw W. Mazur for instance. It’s as comprehensive as it is easily laid out, and therefore, welcoming on the eye as well as on the ear; as the book comes complete with a CD which is more than helpful to say the least. Especially with regards learning Polish, which, as most people might know, isn’t the easiest of languages to pronounce, let alone fully come to terms with.

Amid these 364 pages, there’s a welcoming comfort to be gleaned from the fact that the book does exactly what it says on the cover: it’s for beginners. So, when coming across a word that has been infiltrated by a menagerie of far too many z’s and k’s and b’s (I kid thee not) one doesn’t necessarily feel compelled to either a) run to the hills, b) jump out the window, or c) give up immediately – because pronunciation is addressed nigh immediately.

In fact, it is addressed immediately in the chapter ‘The letters and sounds of Polish,’ wherein the author states: ‘’Polish pronunciation is easier than might at first appear. Learners may shake their heads when confronted with place-names like Szczecin, Bydgoszcz or Slask, but foreign learners of English face greater difficulties with Gloucester, Towcester or Slough.

Polish spelling, unlike English or French, is closely consistent with pronunciation. Each letter on the whole, corresponds to one sound. Two-letter combinations represent some sounds, while others are indicated by an additional accent or mark.

The alphabet and the practice words in the other parts of this section can be heard on the accompanying audio, if you have it; listen carefully and repeat.’’

This I did (over and over); and I have to confess, while I obviously don’t sound like a native, a couple of Polish friends and have informed me that my pronunciation is getting increasingly better. Maybe Norman Davies, author of God’s Playground: A History of Poland is absolutely right when he writes: ‘’Due to its unfamiliarity, the Polish language has gained the unwarranted reputation of being fiendishly difficult, if not impossible to learn. As someone who has mastered it from scratch, and who uses it every day at home, I can categorically deny this slur. In reality, it is no more difficult for an English-speaker to learn Polish than for a Polish-speaker to learn English. Of course, all language learning presents a challenge that demands enthusiasm and perseverance. And, of course, Polish does present problems, especially in the initial stages.’’

I can wholeheartedly attest to learning Polish, initially presenting problems; but, as Davies has noted, the same applies to any language. Including English or French.

Along with a number of Language Points, Exercises, Simple questions and answers and frequent points to Remember, I have to confess, Colloquial Polish has taken the fear out of learning the language. Each of its eighteen Units is concise and easy to understand, as are the Grammar references, Topics and functions index, no to mention both glossaries (Polish-English/English-Polish).

In all, this is probably the best and most comprehensive Polish language book I’ve come across, and is as such, highly recommended.

David Marx


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