Cultural Musings

7 Popular Polish phrases you’re translating incorrectly

As an English teacher and person who lives with a Pole, I spend a lot of time speaking English with non-natives but also speaking Polish, so I know how these common Polish phrases/words should be used! There are a lot of common errors, but these are a few you might not have heard in your typical English course. For those of you who’d like to quickly improve your everyday English skills, check out these 7 Polish phrases to start translating correctly: 

Coś za coś

If you say something for something you’re going to be met with a blank stare. Something for something means nothing in English. Technically the phrase in English is “quid pro quo” however I don’t think it’s used that often, at least not in my world. It’s also similar in negative contexts to “tit for tat”, so if someone hurts you, you hurt them back, or in positive contexts “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. EDIT: A friend of mine suggested “trade-off”, e.g. “It was a trade-off”, as a translation and I’d agree that it’s a good one. 

Wszystkiego najlepszego

I wouldn’t use “all the best” for many situations frankly, only at the end of an email. When do we use this phrase in Polish? At birthdays, at celebrations, holidays, at weddings, and sometimes just random wishes. So maybe at a wedding it seems ok but at birthdays just say “happy birthday” and at Christmas just say “merry Christmas”. It’s that easy!

Aktualne

Typically here you’re not going to just translate it with a single word like “current” or “valid” or the worst “actual”. Actual means real in English or it’s used as “actually” to show contrast. Is that an actual Van Gogh or is it a replica? Or I didn’t think I’d enjoy calamari, but actually it’s delicious. You can say “currently” if you mean “at the moment” and valid is usually for things like your driver’s license or passport. If you’d like to say “Is our meeting still actual” try “Are we still meeting tomorrow?” or perhaps “I’d like to meet at 5 if it’s still actual” should be “I’d like to meet at 5 if it’s still possible.”

Pozdrowienia

If you want to “pozdrów” someone, just say “tell them I said hi”. Saying “greetings” makes you sound like an alien (Greetings Earthlings).

Specyficzny

Specific means that something is detailed e.g. information. So you could ask someone “Could you please be more specific?” So provided more details or information. You cannot describe a person/place as “specific”. A person/place can be a bit strange/odd, characteristic, interesting, maybe special, but not specific.

Rezygnować

Ohhh rezygnować. Way, waaaay overused and incorrectly, mind you. In English, you can resign only from one thing… your job. You cannot change your mind about something and “resign”. You cannot decide to stop doing something and “resign”. You can literally only decide to leave your job and “resign”. So stop using it! (don’t resign from using it though!)

Jestem po

Jestem po obiedzie (I’ve just had dinner). Jestem po medycynie (I studied medicine). Jestem po pracy (I’ve just finished work). Here’s where tenses will help you in translating it to English. As you can see in the translations, you need either present perfect or past simple, depending on the situation. Telling someone “I’m after work” or “I’m after medicine” doesn’t really mean anything to us. You’ll just end up having to explain it anyway, so just start off saying it right!

Do you have any other suggestions? Maybe you know some typical Polish phrases which are often misused in English? If so, you know what to do! Leave us a comment so we can discuss it 🙂

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9 Comments

  • Reply Zuzanna 5 November 2018 at 13:31

    As my friend sitting next to me at a lecture pointed out, “eventually” used as “ewentualnie” should also be on this list – it’s so common!
    We’re saying “hi” from Gdańsk <3

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 November 2018 at 20:20

      Ohhh this is a good one too!! Damn, I didn’t think about it! It’s used incorrectly constantly.

  • Reply Paweł 5 November 2018 at 14:13

    Also “coś bardziej konkretnego” doesn’t translate well to “something more concrete” (when you want a full dinner instead of a salad 😉 )

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 November 2018 at 20:19

      Hah that’s true! That’s a really good one actually. I should add it!! I’d say it’s something like… something more filling? But I know it doesn’t have the same exact meaning. Or like real food maybe? Hah it doesn’t translate well. We use this phrase in Polish at home 🙂

  • Reply Ela (Lizzie) 5 November 2018 at 14:43

    Hi Leah,

    I love your blog. My fiance is American so he is “polonizing” too, since we’ve decided to live in Poland. It’s nice to see that other people are struggling with the same things we are and that other people have similar situation.
    I enjoy reading your blog very much. Keep up the great work! 🙂 🙂 🙂
    As for phrases they are used wrongly, I can’t really think about anything right now, but I know, that double negatives are a problem sometimes. In polish, we use them all the time, while in english it’s just dumb 🙂

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 November 2018 at 20:18

      Where are you guys living? Are you able to find mixed couple friends as well? Or English speaking ones? That helps a lot 🙂 At least in the beginning!

  • Reply Malwina 5 November 2018 at 18:35

    Po jakiego grzyba – For what mushroom (why on earth…?) 😂

  • Reply Giga SamoHa 5 November 2018 at 19:04

    False friends. Give me moar 🙂

    I can’t recall any at the moment… :/ But I know an old joke that might be a metaphor of the topic. (It will sound horribly in translation I suppose).

    A guy went to a dentist.
    The dentist asks patient who is a Pole which tooth hurts him.
    – Time – the man states and the dentist pulled two tooth’s out.
    – Nie! – and shows another one – Ten!
    … and the dentist pulled out ten.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 November 2018 at 20:15

      Hahaha this is so adorable

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