The Language

 Just how do you pronounce ‘szczesliwy’?

Po angielsku, ‘happy’. Which is what you’ll feel if you remember and use a few simple Polish words. Poles fully appreciate (and seem in fact humbly proud of) how difficult their language is, so any effort on your part will be duly noted. The most important word in Polish is thank you: “jen koo ja”. dictionaryThat’s ‘jen’ as in jennifer, ‘koo’ as in kitchy-kitchy and ‘ja’ as in a German yes. The second most important word is please: “prosze”. Or, ‘pro’ as in not amateur, and ‘shuh’ as in huh? with an s. Please, like other Polish words, does double duty as ‘you’re welcome’ which also comes in handy.After that, it’s a cinch! Seriously, unlike English, Polish is pronounced phonetically. Once you understand where to break the word, and that the second-to-last syllable is alwaysstressed, you’ll do okay by keeping the following in mind. One note: if the word looks nothing like it sounds, put it down to some uniquely Polish characters not included here. The Polish alphabet escapes the impenetrability of the Cyrillic, but it does have its own surprises. If confused, just look it up in a good dictionary. Or, if that doesn’t do it, take some lessons.

 Start with something simple

Yes: Tak
(as in tick-‘tock’)
No: Nie
(closest I come is the sound you make when you’re little and teasing your brother, but with more whine to it: ‘nyeh’-nyeh-na-na-na)
OK: Dobrze
(‘dough’ plus a ‘b’ then ‘shuh’)
Excuse me: Przepraszam
(mighty handy word for the crowded trams and streets but difficult to pronounce because it includes that oh-so-not-English combo – ‘p’ merges into ‘shey’ followed by ‘pra’ and ‘shem’; try saying that three times when you’re sober)
What: Co
(often used like an English ‘what??’ and pronounced ‘tso’)
Where: Gdzie
(always a useful travelling word – ‘guh’ and ‘jay’)
When: Kiedy
(because you might want to know when something starts – ‘key yeh dey’)
Who: Kto
(as in not me, I didn’t do it – ‘k’ and ‘toe’)
Why: Dlaczego
(useful for children so you can get tired of a new word – ‘dlah’ and ‘che’ and ‘go’)
How: Jak
(just like ‘tock’ but with a ‘y’)

 For politeness sake

Poles are big on greetings. If you remember anything, remember how to say ‘good day’. You can even say it at night – it has such universality here.
Good day: Dzien dobry
(‘jean’ and ‘dough’ plus ‘bree’ like the cheese)
Hi: Czesc
(use this one on friends only: ‘chay sh ch’ but run it all together as one sound)
Bye: Czesc
(works like ‘aloha’, making informal comings and goings easy)
Good bye: Do widzenia
(‘dough’ and ‘wid zen ya’ comes close enough)

 Guess what: I’m a tourist

The most practical phrases for a foreigner are the obvious: can anyone talk to me in my own language? Because you could simply and most effectively ask that in your own tongue, we’ll try other useful phrases for those curious enough to branch out linguistically.I don’t speak Polish: Nie mowie po polsku
(as if it weren’t obvious enough from your pronunciation, but try it anyway – ‘nie’ as above, ‘movie’ then ‘po’ as in really poor, and ‘pole sku’)
I don’t understand: Nie rozumiem
(pull this one out when an inquiring Pole hasn’t figured out that you aren’t a native – ‘nie’ we know by now and ‘row zoo me m’ works for the operative word)
Please write that down: Prosze to napisac
(when you ‘nie rozumiem’ but want to, stumble out ‘prosze’ as above then ‘toe’ which means it, and end with ‘nah pee sach’ which means write)
Help me please: Prosze mi pomoc
(for those unexpected tourist emergencies – note the ‘prosze’ making yet another appearance, ‘mi’ is just like ‘me’ in English in sound and meaning and the ‘po moats’ functions as the HELP signal)

 What am I eating?

Since you really don’t want to miss out on a good Polish meal or two, these words will help you through a possibly incomprehensible menu.

Drinks Drinks: Napoje 
Vodka: Wodka
(a no-brainer)
Beer: Piwo
Tea: Herbata
Coffee: Kawa
Juice: Sok
Water: Woda
Menu Items Soups: Zupy 
Appetizers: Przekaski 
Entrees: Dania drugie 
Vegetarian Dishes: Potrawy jarski 
Side dishes: Dodatki 
Desserts: Desery

Given the importance of meat, here are some possible pronunciations.
Sausage: Kielbasa
(another easy one, but say it with a Polish twist – ‘keel’ as in over, which you might if you have too many, and ‘baa’ as in black sheep, and ‘sah’ as in ma with an s)
Beef: Wolowe
(another favorite, ‘vogue’ without the final g sound, then ‘woa’ as in hey, stop, and ‘veh’ to finish off)
Veal: Cielecina
(‘chee’ plus ‘len’ as in lenny but shorter, and then ‘cheen uh’)
Pork: Wieprzowe
(if you haven’t gotten the picture yet, Poles love meat – ‘vee eh’ and that lovely tongue twisting combo ‘prz’ as above, then finish with a flourish ‘oh veh’)
Liver: Watrobka
(to be honest, this one’s included because so many people don’t like it – ‘von’ and ‘trub’ and ‘ka’ will just about cover it)
Fish: Ryby 
(just say ‘rib’ and ‘eh’ like what was that you said?)
Chicken: Kurczak 
(roll your ‘r’ when you order this fave, kind of like ordering a ‘coors’ without the ‘s’ and then adding ‘chalk’ without the ‘l’; don’t try this at home)