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False friends sometimes tell the truth

07-04-2009 15:27:36
While learning a foreign language, you are bound to come across false friends. However, the false friends in question are not people but words. Special words, once could say – especially dangerous ones. They look familiar, but at a closer look they turn out to mean something completely different from what we expect. A student of Polish who knows English could assume that the Polish word “pupil” means “pupil”, because it looks identical to the English word - unfortunately, that is not the case. The Polish word means something completely different: „a favourite/teacher's pet”. There are many of such words, and students need to be careful. Below, the reader can find a list of some false friends.
However, some false friends are especially interesting – those which thanks to the difference in meaning show cultural differences. It may seem that differences among nations in Europe are becoming blurred, and in view of integration processes they cease to play an important role. It would be difficult to deny.
Nevertheless, numerous differences which still determine the idiosyncratic nature of nations or cultures have remained. In this article, I would like to take a closer look at the word “kolega”. Both English „colleague” and German „Kollege” indicate a person we work with. What, therefore, constitutes the basis of this word's meaning is an objective relationship: the fact that we work together. In Polish, the meaning of “kolega” is only seemingly the same. It is used in a similar context – to describe people we work with – but it is only one of the possible contexts. In the Polish language a colleague is, first and foremost, someone we know and we like more than an acquaintance and less than a close friend. In other words, it is the subjective relationship – the degree of closeness between two people - not objective one that determines whether someone is a colleague or not. This difference reveals an extremely important feature of Polish working culture. What defines the employee’s position in the team in Polish companies is not solely the function he/she performs, but emotional relationships which connect this person with other team members. Western managers emphasise that the Polish working environment tends to be unstable. This is due to the fact that for Polish employees personal relationship with team members is more important than procedures. On the other hand, it is often pointed out that teams composed of Polish employees are very effective in crisis situations; another characteristic typical of them is great creativity related to so-called “emotional intelligence”. The above-mentioned nature of Polish working environment becomes crucial when personnel of a given company, as a result of a certain decision, begins to be managed by managerial staff coming from one of the western European countries. Such a situation may lead to tension or even conflicts, which, in turn, result in establishing antagonism between the managerial staff and the employees, thus significantly decreasing work efficiency. It is, however, possible to approach the potential conflict in a creative way and construct a model which combines the valuable aspects of both approaches to work. A Polish colleague should pay more attention to procedures, but in order to do it, he/she has to understand and acquire what is obvious to a colleague from the West, namely the fact that procedures may facilitate and order work. The resistance against procedures may seem incomprehensible, but it ceases to surprise when one realises that the majority of professionally active Poles have experienced firsthand communist absurdities, and that the sphere of private, personal and frequently emotional references used to be the only hiding place. For this reason, the manager who implements and enforces a given procedure should move one step backwards and begin with explaining the sense of the procedure itself. On the other hand, the western colleague should appreciate and respect the “human” emotional dimension of work, which is so important to Poles, all the more so because it enriches the team as well as improves work's quality and productivity. It is worth remembering that apart from the work “kolega”, which is used to refer to a man there is also the word koleżanka, which is used for women.

słowo angielskie

prawdziwe znaczenie

pozornie zbliżone słowo polskie

właściwe angielskie tłumaczenie słowa polskiego


zgoda, porozumienie




rzeczywisty, faktyczny


present, current


sprawa, romans, interes


scandal, swindle


porządek dzienny, terminarz


department, branch


kredens, szwedzki stół


snack bar, cafeteria


szafa w ścianie


toilet, lavatory


walczący, bojownik








wynikający, będący następstwem


consistent, constant






ostateczny, końcowy




dowód, świadectwo


records, files




expert's report


dodatkowy, zbędny


great, super


tkanina, wyrób




uprzejmy, towarzyski


of genius








somnambulist, sleepwalker






nieszczęśliwy, żałosny


ill-looking, wan


zadziwienie, skonfundowanie




mało znany


dingy, sordid, shabby


zwyczajny, zwykły


rude, offensive




section, clause










szansa, perspektywy


prospectus, leaflet


uczeń w szkole podstawowej, źrenica


favourite, teacher’s pet


dobry kontakt, zrozumienie, współczucie










pension, annuity


plotka, pogłoska




głośnik, mówca


tv announcer




carriage, car












Why Polish can't be learn

07-04-2009 15:26:58
Teaching Polish, I noticed that the success in learning frequently does not depend on the student's intellectual potential, or even his/her diligence. What seems to be decisive is the student’s attitude and level of motivation. Analysing this problem, I attempted to identify a few issues which, if we give them some thought, may prove to be helpful to all who want to learn how to speak Polish.
Firstly, the cultural disproportion
What is a serious problem is the atmosphere which has been created around the Polish language. And it is not only foreigners who are responsible for creating it. Frequently, Poles themselves believe that their mother tongue is some kind of linguistic curiosity, and that foreigners who learn it should be admired as, if I may say so, Delta Force unit commandos. I remember one client telling me about a taxi driver who, during the trip from the airport, was amazed at how well she spoke Polish, and loudly expressed his doubts saying that maybe it was not worth learning or that she might have had Polish roots. Unfortunately, that was not an isolated case. Such an attitude is a consequence of the cultural disproportion which is still present in the consciousness of Poles and foreigners. Whether we like it or not, people and countries are divided into those which are more and those which are less important. Almost everyone all over the world knows who the president of the USA is, but, I am afraid, there are much fewer people who are interested in the surname of the president of Poland. The countries which are perceived as worse exert much less pressure on the global or European culture. A Pole has to learn foreign languages, a German should, whereas an Englishman does not have to at all! We are constructed in such a way that we work more efficiently under pressure. The statistical Pole feels that he/she has no choice but to learn one or more foreign languages in order to be successful, and such a person is haunted by a certain feeling of guilt if he/she does not do that. I do not believe that the same is the case for, e.g., an American. Does it mean that Poles have a bigger talent for languages? Obviously not. Once in Europe, all well-educated people spoke Latin, then French, and they are, by no means, languages similar to English, which, today, is considered to be an example of an easy language. For medieval elites, the language of, it has to be emphasised, likeable inhabitants of the green islands located on the fringes of Europe was neither easy, nor appealing. To sum up, what we call the level of language difficulty is often, to a significant extent, a psychological concept, and, as such, to a significant extent depends of the attitude of learners of a given language. No wonder that in view of the negative attitude of Poles themselves and under the pressure of the cultural disproportion foreigners believe in stereotypes more and more. But if someone wants to raise the level of motivation, he/she needs to modify his/her attitude.
Secondly, the method
If we want to learn anything, we need a method. English language methodology is a great business, that is why it has been developing dynamically for years. Unfortunately, Polish language methodology is a neglected area. There is a lager body of grammatical theory developed at universities. This knowledge, however, has one fundamental fault - its connection with practice is vague and complicated. If one wants to master Polish, they have to find a school or a teacher who will offer them an effective method. It will not be easy, but without a method learning a foreign language, not only Polish, is impossible. Attending a course is not enough. It has to be a really good course. And, unfortunately, not every smiling and nice teacher is a good teacher. It is not true that Polish is not logical, that it is impossible to understand the rules which govern it, or that Polish pronunciation is unpronounceable. These and many other myths result from work of incompetent teachers. Teachers who work on the basis of an ineffective method, or, who, unfortunately, is also often the case, do not try to use any method at all.
Thirdly, age and time
The other enemies of a learner of Polish as a foreign language are also age and time. These two factor may seriously impede learning the language. It is not just that someone is too old or is too busy. Such an oversimplification would be unfair and untrue. What I am talking about is awareness of certain problems which may help develop a positive attitude constituting the foundation of each effective learning strategy. Foreigners who learn Polish are usually adults, sometimes students, but in the majority of cases people who are busy working. For such people, Polish may be the second or, sometimes, event the third foreign language. The problem is, however, that they leant their first foreign languages as early as at school, that is when their brains were more willing to learn, and, what is more important, when their time was devoted to learning. In the western culture, we spend childhood and teenage years learning. Later, when we start professional life, we constantly acquire knowledge, but rather improve our skills than learn, because learning ceases to be our basic activity. What can be done is such a situation then? First of all, let’s not put the whole blame on the poor Polish language. English may be slightly easier indeed, but we used to learn it in incomparably more favourable conditions. Now, the learning process will be more difficult not because the language is harder, but because we have to switch on the learning mode in our brain again and have to organise time for learning ourselves. In the past, everything was in favour of learning. Now, everything will distract us, and nobody else but us can overcome this resistance. That is why, first of all, we need to give ourselves some time and create conditions for effective learning. What has to be the priority of our learning strategy is regularity. Therefore, it is not worth deceiving ourselves that since we have a lot of duties, we cannot have many lessons with the teacher. On the contrary, if you are busy find a teacher, and have as many lessons and as frequently as possible. It will help you get organised. It is hard to believe that after a day full of duties, one may still feel like learning Polish. With a teacher, it will be easier for you to get motivated. And let’s not forget about patience. Human mind is like a long-distance runner. It is warming up slowly, but once it has warmed up, it discovers an incredible potential in itself.
Fourthly, do not be surprised too much
Over the years of work with students, I have also noticed that learners of Polish as a foreign language frequently find it difficult to accept the fact that a foreign language is a foreign language to them. This manifest itself by constant astonishment which is virtually close to indignation: “How come, in English and German we say it differently!” “No, you can’t do it like that!” Polish, like any other foreign language, differs significantly from the mother tongues of people who learn it. We have to accept this distinctness. If we are surprised or even shocked by every difference, it may turn out that we will quickly get discouraged, because of the feeling that we stay outside of the language, that we do not understand its internal logic. Meeting something different is often difficult, but is usually very beneficial. There are tourist who in the most remote parts of the world look for what they can find in their country. However, there are also such tourist who are fascinated by discovering the richness and diversity of the world. Learning a language has a lot in common with travelling.














Poland’s history on one page

07-04-2009 15:26:30
In the article I would like to recommend to you, I am trying to do the impossible. I am trying to outline Poland’s history on just one page. On one hand, it is difficult to treat such an attempt seriously, but, on the other hand, such a frivolous text may arouse in the reader genuine interest in the topic which has just been touched upon, which I quietly hope for.
The year 966, when Poland accepted Christianity and became a fully-recognised European country, is considered to be the beginning of the Polish state. Historians are unanimous that the main factor which influenced Poland’s history from that time on as well as the way in which its identity was shaped was its geographical location. Poland is situated in the very centre of Europe - between the West and the East. The significance of this location has been interpreted in numerous ways. On some occasions, Poland was treated as the bulwark of the West, on others, as the bridge between the West and the East. Although, since the very beginning, Poland’s statehood developed under the influence of Latin, i.e. western culture, it has to be emphasised that eastern influences were equally strong. Over the years, Poland looked towards the East more and more. This tendency culminated in the 16th century, when Poland formed a union with Lithuania, its eastern neighbour, as a result of which a vast multinational country was created. On one hand, that moment became the manifestation of the Polish state’s power: At that time, the Jagiellonian dynasty was one of the most important royal families in Europe, since 1364 a university had been operating in Kraków, Poland maintained active scientific and cultural contacts with the leading Renaissance centres in Europe, enjoyed military successes and had a really sound economy based on farming. On the other hand, however, during the time of prosperity the balance was upset. Poland gradually began to turn its back on the West. What constituted its strength for the whole centuries started to be the burden, and the modernisation tendencies significantly weakened. Dynamic development of cities, increase in the importance of the bourgeoisie, reformation, gradual decrease in the importance of farming, that is the changes which have contributed to the shaping of the modern identity of the Western Europe, ceased to reach Poland. Although Polish gentry enjoyed a specific form of democracy and numerous privileges itself, it did not even consider giving up its feudal privileges. It believed that the old order will remain the guarantor of prosperity and safety forever. The bourgeois and farmers, that is the vast majority of society, were effectively marginalised by the gentry. Additionally, the political situation in Europe had changed. New superpowers were being born. In the east, Russia was slowly becoming powerful. In the west and north, Prussia was stronger and stronger, whereas in the south, Austria. The absence of reforms, as well as the economic, military and social collapse of Poland enabled the neighbouring superpowers to easily conquer it, as a result of which in the second half of the 18th century Poland lost independence, and its land was partitioned among three completely different countries. The differences were so significant that they influence individual regions of Poland even today. Poles’ national identity underwent a difficult test. Thanks to great intellectual and spiritual effort, Polish culture managed to develop a new type of national identity, which was not connected with territorial and politically independent sovereign state. At that time, Poland did not exist as a state, but Polish culture, which became an alternative for political sovereignty, flourished. Poles learnt to live against the existing order. Since then, being a Pole was tantamount to being against and being outside the official order. The cultural development, which took place mainly among émigrés, was accompanied by military uprisings in Poland. All of them failed and became the symbol of national sacrifice, but enfeebled society. Poland regained independence as late as after the WW I, thanks to pragmatic politics which was, this time, supported by effective military operations. Poland started reforms. They were not easy – they were accompanied by political turbulence, e.g. coup d'etat and the Polish-Bolshevik war won by the Poles. Nevertheless, the country’s situation was gradually improving. Unfortunately, Poles could not continue the reforms. In 1939, Poland was attacked first from the west by Germany, and then from the east by the Soviet Union. Due to the passivity of the western allies, the Polish army was defeated, and the country lost independence again. Despite the fact that Poland contributed to the allies’ military victory, it did not mean independence for the Poles. Under the new political arrangements, Poland became part of the Soviet sphere of influence. The communist era started in Poland. The system gradually evolved. Initially, it was extremely brutal, but after Stalin’s death there was a thaw and the situation in Poland started slowly to change - the regime became less brutal, but people were still killed, and the independent thought was consistently suppressed. The political changes were forced by social discontent caused by economic reasons. In fact, workers protested against poverty, not against communism. Not many people understood that the poverty did not result from mistakes of concrete individuals but from the communist system as such. The protests were gradually joined by intellectuals. Over time, the cooperation between workers and intellectuals became closer and led to the establishment of Solidarity. Solidarity is still a trade union, but in the communist system it was primarily the first organisation which was independent of the communist authorities. The movement was supported by people who had radically different visions of Poland’s future development. This was due to the fact that Solidarity was the protest movement and did not have positive, constructive agenda – which was proved after the first democratic elections, when former friends who fought the common enemy turned out to be opponents in the political debate of the already independent Poland. Toppling communism in Poland was bloodless. There were no riots – the wave of strikes and the economic collapse which was irreparable in the command economy forced the communists to negotiate. During the conference called the Round Table, the communists worked out with the opposition the conditions for handing over power. The compromise was, undoubtedly, a success. It, to some extent, eliminated the ill fate that always dogged Poland - the need to be against. Unfortunately, there was a price to be paid for the compromise. People who, over the years, profited from communism, which was, undoubtedly, a criminal system in Poland, gained access to political and economic life in democratic Poland. Communism’s victims have found it very difficult to accept. Therefore, communism still hangs over the social and political life in Poland, but it cannot obscure the fact that the last 20 years have been the period of great prosperity for the country and society. Poles’ standard of living is improving fast, and they have to define their place in Europe again. Nevertheless, Poland will always remain a country between the West and the East. The question as to whether it will be able to skilfully benefit from this location is still open.