Friday, November 9, 2012

A Primer On My Polish Studies

I've decided to start a blog about my Polish Language studies.  I've seen some other blogs out there of this sort and they have been helpful to me, so maybe this will be helpful to others as well.  I've made a few comments about the Polish language on David Morrison's most excellent blog about moving to Poland, No Home But The World, and maybe I'll incorporate and expand on the thoughts I've put there eventually.

I've been studying Polish for a little over two years now.  It's an incredibly difficult and complex language, and I would liken learning it to maybe doing a hundred-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle.  I do have some experience with jigsaw puzzles, because a while back, a large group of people including myself completed a jigsaw puzzle with over ten thousand pieces, and it took us all over a year.  Of course, that was just attacking it sporadically, a few minutes a day.

I've been trying to study about two hours a day on average, which is a pretty large amount when you average out the fact that sometimes I will really bear down and study six hours a day, and sometimes I will burn out and not study for a couple of weeks.  The best and most productive thing I have found to do is to study for about four or five half-hour increments a day that are spaced out from each other.  On flash cards alone, I have averaged 735 cards a day over the life of my flash card deck, but only 470 a day over the last year (I know the exact number because my flash card program spits out all kinds of statistics).  And that's just on Polish...I'm also studying Dutch, German, Italian and Danish, but not with near the ferocity that I am applying to my Polish studies.  I probably spend about ten hours of Polish study for each hour of all the other languages combined.  Still, I had read on another Polish learner's blog that he studies about six hours of Polish for each hour of German and still knows German better because Polish is so complex and arcane.  I can relate.

And I strongly recommend Anki as a flash card program.  It's free and open-source (though donations are strongly encouraged and certainly deserved due to the excellent quality of the program), and there are a huge number of shared decks created by others.  But beware, the decks can vary in quality (since anybody can make them, they might not follow the best principles for learning; e.g., they might include too many facts on a card or just have cards for one direction of translation).  The Polish deck that I am using is excellent.  It was created by Per Ericksson, who really created one of the best language learning decks I have seen.  And I have added my own material to it so my deck is about 150% of the size of his (I have nearly 15000 facts and 30000 cards in mine; there are two cards for each fact because there is one for Polish-English, and one for English-Polish).  I emailed him many changes and corrections I had for a while and he incorporated them, but I guess he has not been maintaining it as diligently lately.  I don't want to put mine in the shared area because I don't want to supercede his, but if you want a copy of mine, let me know in a comment and I can send it to you (actually, I can send you a link to it so you can download it because it is so large it won't send in an email under most circumstances).  Another great thing about this deck is that I use it as a dictionary of first resort as well, by using the search function.

So after two years of study, I am probably at a low B1 level in reading and a mid-A2 level in speaking, and maybe a low A2 in understanding spoken speech (using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).  My speech skills (especially in understanding rapidly spoken speech) lag far behind my reading skills as I haven't been exposed to a lot of spoken language, and as my study methods are probably emphasizing vocabulary at the expense of grammar and verbal skills a lot more than a language course would make me do, mostly because I'm obsessed with knowing words and two- and three-word combinations of words in short phrases or idiomatic constructs.  So I'll probably learn about ten thousand words and idioms pretty well, then slowly start moving to more correctly using them and understanding them in speech.  That is probably not the way most people would learn...most would probably become "fluent" in a hundred words, then move up to a thousand, etc., but learning in a more balanced fashion and emphasizing verbal usage more.  Everybody finds their own path.

Anyway, that is probably enough for now.  I hope to maintain this blog at least sporadically; knowing my history of blogging there may be times when I am idle for a while.  But if somebody bugs me to put up a blog post, or suggests a topic for one, I might be spurred to action.


  1. Stuart, I'm just getting around to reading your blog in full. It's really terrific.

    You're so much farther along than I am that it's a bit daunting to read of your difficulties. But I was able to order in a restaurant the other day; that was a small breakthrough. I really appreciate your help and the resources you've shared with me.

    I hope one day I'll reach the level where we can trade tricks and tips. Maybe by the time you come to Poland?


  2. You'll probably move along pretty fast being immersed in the language. It's difficult for me because I don't get much practice.

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