Saturday, 1 September 2012

Confusing parts of Polish language for an English-speaking learner

This open-ended blog is basically to help clarify bits of confusing bits of Polish language for an English-speaking learner. I'll try to cover a wide range of vocabulary and grammar - particularly in terms of meaning - that anyone from beginner to approximately upper-intermediate might want to get their head round.

I'm a native English speaker and have been learning Polish since 2006. I should point out that I'm not an advanced user, but with help from my Polish wife, friends and books, and having lived in Poland, I've got a reliable grasp of most of the common tricky bits. The explanations of meanings don't claim to be exactly accurate (semantics is a difficult enough topic within one language!), but they should convey a decent 'ball-park' meaning in a way which you can quickly assimilate and apply.

(The theory goes that once you have this rough but usable meaning in your head, following lots of input and practice, your brain will naturally chisel, polish and associate these phrases to reach a deeper meaning...)

If you have any questions, amendments or whatever, please comment below! :)

1. dopiero

  • It often roughly translates as 'only just':
    • dopiero + first event, gdy + second event shortly after
    • used for past or future (past, present or future perfect tense in English)
    • e.g. "I'd only just fallen asleep when my alarm went off!" ("Dopiero zasnąłem gdy budzik dzwonił.")
  • It also can translate as 'not until':
    • when something that is expected to happen actually happens later than thought:
    • e.g. "Einstein didn't start speaking until he was three." ("Einstein zaczął mówić dopiero gdy miał 3 lata.")
    • or to at least make a time of waiting sound drawn out:
    • e.g. A: "She's coming back in September." B: "Not until then?!" (A: "Ona wróci we wrześniu." B: "Dopiero?!")

  • Overall, it feels to me that dopiero is all about pushing or delaying the time of an event in your mind.

2. Note about exclamation marks - they tend to be used less in Polish than in English (like in the above sentence). I'm told that they generally have a more striking effect than they do in our relatively desensitised English usage.

3. jeszcze and już

  • I've put these together because they are two words I often accidentally wrongly swap in speech.
  • jeszcze carries a sense of something not being finished, or still in progress.
  • It translates into the following English words:
    • 'more' as in "I want more [tea]." ("Chce jeszcze [herbaty].")
    • 'still' in the sense of not changing, and continuing (like the word nadal) as in "I am still waiting." ("Jeszcze czekam." / "Nadal czekam.")
    • 'again' in the sense of 'more of the same' as in when a child comes off a rollercoaster and shouts "Again, again!" ("Jeszcze, jeszcze!")
    • in negative, it means 'not yet', which actually in English can be expressed as 'still not' (perhaps a better, more literal translation), e.g. "I still haven't had breakfast." / "I haven't had breakfast yet." ("Jeszcze nie zjadłem śniadania.")

  • już, in contrast to jeszcze, carries a sense of completion or end of a process.
  • It translates in the following ways:
    • 'already' to show something happening ahead of time, e.g. "I've already watched this film." ("Już obejrzyłam ten film.")
    • 'now' when signalling the end of something, e.g. "Now we're here." (Już jesteśmy na miejscu.")
    • 'enough' or 'that's it' to show desire to stop or end something, e.g. when someone is crying; often used as a single word "Już."
    • in negative, can express 'never again' / 'no more', often used in future tense, e.g."I'll never drink beer again!" ("Już nie bede pił piwa.")

  • Very roughly, you could see jeszcze as fixing an event or situation in time with a conceived future (without regard to its past), and już as the opposite, framing an event or situation in terms of its past (without regard to its future); an exception is the negative 'już nie', which thinks about the futurity of an event (but expresses that there isn't one!)