Everyone likes to have a backup when it comes to languages; a reliable plan B for when a conversation takes a turn you aren’t expecting. When I was learning German, this was the classic ‘Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch’, and I used it all the time! It’s a great fall back when a native speaker starts talking like lightning, sentence after incomprehensible sentence. If you let them know you’re a learner, not only will most people speak more slowly, but they’ll be happy to help whenever you are stuck. For the more advanced speaker, being able to say that you’re learning Polish, or if your studying any other languages, is a great way to make conversation with local Poles, many of whom are foreign language learners themselves.
To say you are learning any language you must use the verb uczyć się (to learn), in the first person present tense: Uczę się (I am learning).
This particular verb is a little bit unusual because it is one that forces its objects to always take the genitive case, so when we add the language we are talking about, it must be in the genitive. Furthermore, the words for languages like ‘Polish’, ‘English’, and ‘German’ are all masculine adjectives. If you’re not sure what endings to use for masculine adjectives in the genitive, it’s a good idea to recap before using the verb ‘to learn’. Let’s look at some examples:
Uczę się polskiego (I am learning Polish)
Uczę się niemieckiego (I am learning German)
Uczę się włoskiego (I am learning Italian)
There are alternative ways to say you are learning a language that are just as useful and don’t require you to know genitive adjective endings. For example, you can say ‘znam…’ (I know…) a particular language, and this, being a transitive verb, requires the accusative case.
Znam polski (I know Polish)
Znam angielski (I know English)
Znam francuski (I know French)
Notice how the words for languages in Polish do not take capital letters as they do in English.
Other Useful Vocabulary
Sometimes you may want to say you can read or write, or just understand a language, and for this there are other verbs in Polish.Here are some examples:
Rozumiem po polsku (I understand Polish)
Mόwię po angielsku (I speak English)
Czytam po niemiecku (I read German)
The important thing to notice is how with the verb the endings of their objects (the languages you are talking about) change. These declensions are perhaps the trickiest thing to get right in Polish, but practicing sentences like this will really help you get the hang of it.
Here are some other phrases that will no doubt come in handy when explaining your own language learning in Polish.
Mόwię trochę po rosyjsku (I speak a little bit of Russian)
Nie mόwię zbyt dobrze (I don’t speak it too well)
Mόwię biegle (I speak it fluently)
Mόwię bardzo dobrze (I speak it very well)
The great thing about Polish verbs is it’s very easy to change the subject of the sentence. If you know the verb endings for the first, second and third person, you can say ‘you speak Polish’, ‘they speak Polish’ and other similar variations with only a small change:
Znasz polski (You know Polish)
Ona mowi po angielsku (She speaks English)
Oni rozumieją po polsku (They understand Polish)
This type of vocabulary is very dynamic and is important for learners and fluent speakers alike, either when explaining their own language level or making conversation with native speaking Poles.