(...or at least make others think you do)
Every language has some specific words or sounds that keep the conversation going. I remember a little girl in her kindergarten years that moved to Sweden. A couple of weeks later an old lady living next door started talking to her. The little girl greeted her and then listened carefully, every now and then making a sound by sharply inhaling air, which is what Swedes do to say “yes” and assure the speaker that they are keeping up with the conversation. Finally, the lady said goodbye and went away. The girl’s mom was amazed. She knew that kids were great at picking up language, but she couldn’t believe they were THAT good. However, when she asked her daughter what the neighbor had told her, the girl said: “I have no idea, I just wanted to be nice to her.” Apparently, this one word - or rather one sound - was enough to sound Swedish.
We can help you be just as successful in communicating in Polish. Make Poles think you are a fluent speaker of their language and amaze them with your linguistic skills! Before you come to Poland, let us equip you with a bunch of easy words that will help you sound Polish. Are your mouth and tongue ready for some gymnastics?
Let’s begin with a key word that comes handy in literally every informal conversation. No, no, no, it has nothing to do with being assertive. ‘No’ is actually not what it might seem. Quite the opposite. ‘No’ is a very informal way of making the speaker know that you agree. But there’s even more to ‘no’ than that. You can say ‘no, no’ to express surprise (“well, well”) or “no nie?” to search support for what you are saying (“right?”). A very useful word, no nie?
This murmuring sound is often used just like the above-mentioned inhaling sound in Swedish, to keep the conversation going. It lets your interlocutor know that you are along with the conversation, you understand what is being said (and even agree with it).
You probably have heard of the Polish word to say ‘excuse me’, which is ‘przepraszam’ /psheh-prah-sham/. But trying to pronounce it can be a real challenge. Don’t worry, there’s an easier way to catch someone’s attention. It may be a bit less polite, but it’s just as effective. ‘Ej!’ will definitely do its job.
With an explicit, vibrating ‘r’ sound, it makes everyone around you know that you are cold (and perhaps need to borrow someone’s jacket). If you find it hard to produce the Polish ‘r’, stay tuned. A post on weather in Poland and suitable clothes is yet to come. It will help you avoid the ‘brrr’.
This is a commonly used word to express disgust with something (‘yuck’). But come to think of it, you won’t be needing it during your stay in Poland. We bet ‘mniam’ /mnyam/ will be far more useful, especially when you taste our delicious Polish food.
Poles often make this spitting sound when they talk. But what is it that they are trying to spit out? Believe it or not, they’re actually spitting out words. Words that they got wrong. That’s what happens when your tongue is faster than your mind. Use this word often and others will think that you are a fluent speaker of Polish, just a little bit carefree… tfu! I mean distracted.
Although teachers at school always tell us to avoid ‘yyy’ because it makes you sound (and look) quite silly, to me it’s the best proof that you are a native speaker of Polish and you actually think in Polish. This is the sound that fills the gaps in your speech when your mind is looking for the best words to express your thoughts. Speakers of English that have learnt to speak Polish use ‘ummm’ instead, even when they are speaking Polish. So go ahead, don’t be afraid, and use a lot of ‘yyy’!
We hope that this short lesson will help you sound as Polish as possible and make a lot of friends while you are here. Now just jump on the plane, come to Poland and practise, because practice makes perfect!