How to Use Polish Letters and Characters?
It's commonly accepted that one of the first tasks for a student of Polish is to become acquainted with the various sounds of the alphabet. Indeed, this is absolutely necessary for any advancement in speaking, perhaps the most important of production skills for the early learner. However there is a flip side to getting used to sounds, and it has to do with two other fundamental aspects of language learning, reading and writing. While being able to produce the sounds signified by particular letters is of great importance in the one instance, it's also very important that the student of Polish learns how to write the various symbols that match these sounds and all of their variations.
Unlike some of its closely related Slavic rooted language neighbours, the letters of the Polish alphabet are very closely related to the letters of the Latinate root languages that dominate Western Europe. In fact the symbols of the Polish alphabet are essentially Latin, but with just a few added symbols, required to accommodate the overwhelmingly phonetic nature of the language (Here, thankfully, it's one symbol for one sound for the most part).
The Polish alphabet consists of 32 letters, including 9 vowels and 23 consonants. As we have said, many of the letters are equivalent to their Latin counterparts (as used in English), while there are some which have alterations to match their sounds. These alterations are done by adding an accent line (the kreska), a vowel tail (the ogonek) a covering dot (the kropka), or a stroke through (used only in the Polish letter 'ł').In addition, the Polish alphabet does not contain the letters 'q', 'v' or 'x', but these are more increasingly being used in modern assimilations of foreign words.
The kreska is essentially used to soften consonant sounds, and is always used in conjunction with Latin consonants. The ogonek is perhaps the trickiest letter for learners to get used to, as it can often change its sound with the placement of the tailed vowel in a word, making it hard for the writer or reader to reproduce it correctly. The kropka is used to form an entirely different letter: a consonant with a drawn out sound. But the only letter to use a strike through (the 'ł'), makes a soft 'w' sound and is often mistakenly replaced by learners with the letter 'l' when writing in Polish, despite being wholly different verbally
Written Polish has also assimilated a number of 'consonant clusters' over the years. These are essentially groups of two consonants that represent verbal sounds that are particular to Polish and not available in the Latinate alphabet, or by using other, more closely related Slavic letters. The reason for these is again, the extremely phonetic nature of the Polish alphabet, which means while they may make written production more difficult (at least in terms of learning volume), they serve their purpose when it comes to reproducing text in speech.
These clusters are a big cause of difficulty for beginners, especially when reading, as they can look particularly daunting on a page. (Just take a look at that formidable tongue twister, 'W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie'!). But when broken down, they are actually remarkably similar to many of the single letter sounds contained in the Polish alphabet (for example there is virtually no different in sound between the two words 'morze' [sea], and 'może' [maybe]).
Overall, the phonetic nature of the polish alphabet means that the extra letters and embellished Latin characters should be expected, and with a little work, it really won't be hard to be able to translate the spoken word into the visual representation required by writing (and naturally the other way round, for reading).