I’ve started dedicating time to learn Polish again, finally.

For now I’m using this Anki deck I had a programmer use Amazon’s text-to-speech API with a native Polish voice to add audio to each card. So far it’s helped tremendously. This deck with the audio is better than any app I’ve used. I’ve memorized most of the basic verbs now and moved on to simple phrases, which I’m actually using here and there in Ubers and such.

Polish pronunciation is very difficult. So difficult that there is not a single app or guide that explains how to make the non-English sounds properly. Most of the guides and apps don’t even tell you that Polish has different sounds than English. They just tell you stuff like ź is the j in jeep, while dź is the j in jerk. Which isn’t even correct English—j in jeep and j in jerk are the same (just like ch in chalk, chap, cheek, chin, are all the same, but they love to tell you otherwise!) Very bizarre.

But they might have a point. After reading a bunch of IPA charts and university studies on how to produce Polish in particular, and trying to correctly produce the sound using audio recording software comparing myself to native Poles from YouTube clips, I’ve given up. I got very close, to the point some native Poles say my is correct (sometimes). However, recording software shows I’m still off. While I believe (knock on wood) that I’ve figured out the tongue placement/movement, I believe the rest of the issue is that English consonants (including the comparable ) are aspirated while Polish is not, which is another layer of complexity to confuse all but the most linguistically adept. In fact sitting here I can’t even recall what that means or how I could possibly not aspirate that sound. It’s such an alien concept to an English speaker. Properly producing the sound consistently is simply going to slow my learning down too much.

Funny aside, I emailed a professor in the US that wrote a very popular Polish guide for beginners, to ask him about producing the sound. He admitted it’s the one sound he was never able to pronounce properly! Polish Americans never properly learn it even if they’re fluent, simply substituting English .

The other retroflex consonants are much easier, however they’re so close to English (e.g. vs ) that there’s no point in bothering. You can’t tell them apart in normal speech, only in over-exaggerated isolation. However, the non-retroflex (“alveolo-palatal”) consonants like <ś>, <ć>, <ź>, etc. have a very distinct sound and as such should be learned properly. They’re easy. Hearing the difference in normal speech between <ś> and is difficult, but I can still hear it a little bit… so I’m sure to Poles it’s very pronounced. These consonants are common in many languages and have a lot of guides available to show you how to produce them (e.g. this video on <ś>), which has helped tremendously, while has virtually 0 guides available, only very complex linguistic studies that are exhausting to parse.

Spent Christmas in Zakopane.

The first thing you see coming in by train are the Tatra Mountains. Breathtaking sight. Sets the mood. Not in Kansas anymore!

Stepping off the train, I immediately noticed people walking around in high fashion skinny jeans (many ripped with skin showing), sneakers, and even high heels(!!)… while its -5c and snowing. Tried my best not to stare or laugh, but I’ve never seen anything like it. For all that frost bite I hope somebody got laid. One family was even carrying their crying, screaming daughter into a hotel because they made her wear a summer dress and her legs were freezing.

My Polish friend later referred to them as “polacos”. I couldn’t find a definition of this word on Google... there is a wikipedia article on “polaco” from Spain, but he specifically used the “s” variant multiple times. Regional slang?

The main road krupówki has a lot of clothing stores, providing high brands for the polacos to spend some of that money. And one of the nicer hotels, the Aries, looked more like a luxury dealership than a hotel. They could put up a sign “TATRA PORSCHE & BMW” and the polacos would get lost in a snowbank trying to find the sales guy.

So Zakopane is a very hip place I guess. I wonder if a lot of rich people live there year-round, or they just flood in from Warszawa and Kraków for Christmas (and the locals deeply despise them, dreaming of pitchforks and death!) There are a lot of beautiful log cabins, so probably a mix. I expected it to be a poorer town, like where I grew up in the Sierra Nevadas. No Porsches in Twain Harte!

Had amazing food at U Wnuka. Their żurek was some of the best I’ve had. I could eat żurek every day.

Went to Mass at 12am at Sanktuarium Najświętszej Rodziny hoping there would be lots of singing and music like I’d seen on YouTube in other Polish churches during Christmas. They did sing one or two short songs which included a big screen with the lyrics, so I did my best to follow along. Good way to practice pronunciation. After mass everyone left unfortunately.

I found a modern apartment downtown with a nice view of the Palace of Culture and Sciences (Pałac Kultury i Nauki). Little expensive for Poland, but it’ll make life easier for the first year while I get acquainted with everything.

Apartment hunting in Warsaw is tricky. Agents can take a commission from both sides which makes things much more complicated for the renter in particular. On top of that, agents regularly take up to 1 month rent as a fee for nicer apartments (oddly this fee isn’t in any contract so I’m not sure how it’s enforced.. honor system?). The Polish government website suggests such a fee isn’t abnormal, so it seems to just be the way things are done here. Had a few agents get upset when I nicely told them I wasn’t comfortable paying that much for to send a few emails to landlords. They’re good at trying to guilt trip you for negotiating, but eventually they give in!

Anyway. I’ve begun registering for temporary residence and a work permit using a lawyer a friend referred. I have a few offers to help companies with specialized marketing campaigns, and one in particular is very interesting. I’m told everything should work out without any issue. Hope so!

As far as Polish language goes, I haven’t studied much lately. The 2 months of studying I did in America before coming have paid off- without knowing “przepraszam” you’d have a tough time in any store here. On two occasions I’ve got into some confusing situations with others, more like misunderstandings, where throwing out a quick “mój polski jest bardzo zły” made them immediately very friendly. Poles appear to hold a special place in their heart for anyone who learns a bit of their language. That’s a pretty big difference compared to a lot of countries! And worth mentioning that the Polish friends I’ve made so far have put in significant effort to stay in touch and are always letting me know they’re available if I need help. Not necessarily what I’m accustomed to in major US cities.

While it’s easy to write all of the above off due to the fact I’m an American (I’ve been told many times- Poles love Americans), I’ve observed Poles going very far out of their way to help each other, in many cases for complete strangers. Much like I’m accustomed to in smaller towns in the US where I grew up.


Grew up in California in a trailer park.

Escaped to Phoenix.

Flew to NYC to make some paper.

Now I find myself in Warsaw. Warsaw, a city many Americans wouldn’t be able to find on a map. Starting my path towards Polish citizenship.

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