Polish Pronunciation Tips

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!


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The Polish Alphabet – A Beginner’s Guide

These are the 32 letters of the Polish alphabet:

a ą b c ć d e ę f g h i j k l ł m n ń o ó p r s ś t u w y z ź ż

And here’s what they sound like:

Most of these letters and their pronunciation is not too different to the English, so to minimise confusion, here are the notable exceptions only:

c – perhaps the easiest for the beginner to mispronounce. Replace it with the English ts as in fits.
ć – ch, like in cheap
i – never pronounced like pit, but always like tweet
j – like the English y in yes, never like jam
ł – like the English w in wax
ń – an n with a slight twang, like canyon
ó – like the double o in loot
r – trilled or rolled (not easy for everyone – more on this later!)
ś – sh, like in ship
u – the same pronunciation as ó (can make spelling difficult!)
w – like the English v in vowel
y – only used as a vowel (and note there are almost no words starting with y in Polish) – the pronunciation is between fit and foot
ż – like in vision
ź – much less frequently encountered than the above, but very similar in pronunciation.

Lastly, these two vowels have no close English equivalent. Listen to the sound and an example:

ą – a nasal o noise

ę – a nasal e noise

There are also a few two-letter combinations that warrant a description

ch ci cz dz dź dż rz si sz

ch – like the English h in ham, but much noisier
ci – the same as ć
cz – ch as in chap
dz – as in odds
dź – as in Jeep
dż – very similar to the above
rz – the same as ż
si – the same as ś
sz – very similar to the above

If you’re being observant, you’ll notice that some of these are very similar, e.g. si, sz and ś

For the very beginner, it’s probably best not to get caught up in the subtle difference – but here’s the best description I’ve come across if you’re curious:

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