We’ve already covered the pronunciation of the Polish alphabet on the blog, but I thought I’d share some additional peculiarities of Polish pronunciation which might not be obvious to those just starting out speaking Polish.
This is never going to be an exhaustive list, because there are more quirks and exceptions than I could hope to cover here in an easily-digestible summary – but here are a few that I’ve found most useful when learning the language:
When is an ę not an ę?
Answer: at the end of words. Most Poles will pronounce an ę at the end of a word just like a normal e.
Listen to the pronunciation of się in Jak się masz? (how are you?):
The same obviously applies to ‘wolę’, which might help with the pronunciation of certain poems.
Beware the double consonants
In English, double consonants, like in adder tend to be pronounced as a single sound.
In Polish, they are pronounced individually (or made longer).
Listen to czynny (active):
and oddech (breath):
Rolling the ‘r’
The Polish ‘r’ has a pronounced roll which some English speakers (including me) will find difficult. Here are some tips to help practise the rolled ‘r’.
The length of vowels
Other than ę and ą, Polish vowels are all uniformly short in length, which can trip up English speakers as our vowel lengths can vary. It would be tempting to pronounce Warszawa (Warsaw) with a long ‘a’, but you should keep it short. Listen:
Polish word emphasis
In general, the emphasis on Polish words is on the penultimate syllable of the word. Exceptions tend to be loanwords, or fall into one of the following categories:
Words ending with -liśmy -łysmy -liście -łyście or the conditional endings -by -bym -byśmy -byście etc. (more on these types of words later): these all have the stress on the third-to-last syllable.
When two words are pronounced like one word. Some groups of two words are pronounced as if they were one, with the penultimate syllable pronunciation to match. For example: ze mną (with me) and przeze mnie (because of me).
One good thing to know is that unlike in English where the pronunciation of a given set of letters can be remarkably inconsistent (‘ough’ can be pronounced at least eight different ways), Polish pronunciation is very consistent, once you’ve got the hang of the basic rules!