Polish pronunciation is famously challenging for people from abroad. Not many are able to master even the simplest words, much less tongue twisters or ridiculous names. If one more person says Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz to me, I’ll scream. Ever met someone with that name? No. I know it’s hard to say and hilarious to hear foreigners try to say it, but I’m talking about it words which we actually USE. Read on to find out which Polish words I use frequently that I’ve found the hardest to master.
Oh Polish… how difficult you’ve made my life…but also how many funny situations you’ve brought me! Everyone is always talking about how Polish is the “hardest” language in the world. For sure it is one of many. According to this article from unbabel.com about the 10 hardest languages for English speakers to learn, it’s No. 10, due to the fact that at least it has a familiar alphabet, despite a few funky letters (ą, ę, ł) and only 7 cases (apparently Hungarian has 26… mother of god…)
There’s also this article from culture.pl, about the 9 most unpronounceable words in Polish, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t.
Words like Pszczyna and Szczebrzeszyn are maybe hard to say but just don’t seem worthy of being on this list. Perhaps for people who don’t know anything about Polish – ok – but for me as a second language learner, perhaps at the A2-B1 level, I don’t find these difficult. But maybe I just don’t have trouble with “sz” and “cz”. And anyway, how often do you get to say them? (I say Pszyczyna pretty often as my sister-in-law lives there!)
What I do agree with:
źdźbło – translated as “a blade of grass”. However, how often do you even use this word? It might be hard to say but who gives a shit if I don’t need it on a daily basis?
bezwzględny (ruthless, absolute) this kind of stuff including ze względu (due to) – Hard to say but eh how often do I use these? Basically never.
Szczęście – (luck) or (happiness) – we use it a lot – “szczęśliwy” or “na szczęście” and with the “szcz” plus “ś” you have to move your mouth in weird ways. Unnatural!
Here’s my very own list of hard Polish words to pronounce:
Chrzciny (baptism) – This is the only Polish word I honestly can’t pronounce even after lots of practice.
For Americans and Brits – those of us who can’t really roll our “r’s”, many very simple words in Polish are some of the hardest to pronounce. Bardzo (very), for example, which you need basically ALL THE TIME. Some of my least favorites are: tort (birthday cake) and targ (market). That goes also for words with “r” at the beginning – names like Radek and Renata, rabat (discount), reżyser (film director) and the worst, rower (bike) and rurka (pipe).
Być (to be) – it’s very hard to hear and say the difference between this is and the word “bitch” in English, and thus could be a bit strange for English speakers.
Zdecydować (decide) – I always bungle this word in speech… Zdecydowałam… kill me
Chcieć/chcę (want) – a very simple and very common word which begins with a voiceless sound the comes from the back of your throat. Very difficult to master for English speaks and always sounds like you just have something stuck in your throat when you try to say it.
Wziąć (bring) – Took me years to master this and now I understand why the incorrect version “wsiąść” is becoming more and more popular. It’s easier to say.
Trzy (three) – Like in English, it’s a bitch to master. Who’s fucking brilliant idea was that? Torturing children and second language learners alike.
Trzydzieści/czterdzieści (thirty/forty) – again like in English 30 and 40 are hard to say – fuck!
Sześćset (six hundred) – going from “ść” to “s” requires me to space out the syllables so much that it sounds like two separate words.
Grzegorz – I feel bad for these guys when they have to tell people abroad what their name is. I suppose they just use “Greg” but what about when your name is, idk, Zbyszek? No translation for that.
Piotr – This is my husband’s name. Thanks a lot honey. I always just called people with this name Peter before so as to avoid this issue but then I married one of them. Bardzo dobry pomysł. “T” and “r” pronounced together with no vowel (i.e. in Piotrek) after is kinda hard. My mom asked me how to say it and when I told her promptly told me “I can’t say that.” I feel that pain on a daily basis.
Krzysztof – Christoper in Polish. It’s a doozy as well.
Siostra (sister), siostrzeniec (nephew), siostrzenica (niece) … just… no comment.
Random hard words
Księżniczka (princess) – I remember this is one of the words that was so hard for me in the beginning. Such a simple thing and popular with kids so it should be an easy word. Nope!
Rzemieślnicze (handcrafted) – wtf? Ok this word isn’t essential but it’s incredibly hard to say without lots of practice. I can now boast about my ability to say this word but only after years of bemusement. It’s important nowadays as every ice cream shop describes themselves this way.
Wszystko / wszystkiego – (everything) – Now pair it with “najlepszego” to make “wszystkiego najlepszego” or a very common Polish phrase at birthdays or holidays, literally meaning “All the best”.
Przestrzeń (space, inside a building) – “rze” twice – nearly impossible to repeat this correctly.
Cudzoziemców (foreigners) – Someone did this just to punish us.
Any word with “skrzy” like skrzypce (violin), skrzynka (mailbox), skrzyżowanie (intersection)
English-y words with Polish pronunciation
Burger – with the Polish rolled “r” this is just fucking impossible. It sounds so ridiculous, seriously.
Euro – proposed by Phil, an Australian, my friend from expatspoland.com. Check out the post about Phil’s first year in Poland.
Video – I have to make a stupid face in order to say this and it bothers me.
Indywidualny (individual) – I think the pronunciation of the “i” is the hardest part.
Teorii (theory) – As in English, it’s rather hard to say properly and it feels artificial coming out of my mouth.
Priorytet (priority) – As someone suggested in my Facebook post about this, saying “poproszę priorytet” at the post office is a total tongue twister, especially when forced to say it in front of like 10 people waiting in line behind you. Masakra.
I’m sure I’m missing plenty of hard words from this list so if you have any to add, please feel free! What words are the hardest for you to pronounce? I know different sounds may be harder or easier depending on the native language, so let us know below!