The number of foreign workers in Poland is growing, as I mentioned before in my article on networking with HR professionals. Meeting formal requirements is just one of the issues they must face; another is mastering Polish. For many foreigners, Polish is one of the more difficult languages; yet, being able to speak Polish gives them a sense of independence and competence.
What seem to be the biggest challenges? How can employers help to overcome the linguistic barriersstic barriers? I discussed these concerns with an experienced Polish teacher, Klaudia Głowacka.
An experienced teacher of Polish as a foreign language. Klaudia’s students come from different linguistic backgrounds. In her teaching, she focuses on building and mastering communication skills. She strongly believes that grammar is the means, not the goal of teaching.
What are the biggest challenges?
Challenge 1 – the Polish alphabet
Foreign workers tend to have difficulty pronouncing Polish graphemes such as ś, ć, ź, ę, ą and, in particular, digraphs such as sz, cz, dz, rz, si and ci. Very often, these graphemes occur in combinations that foreigners – particularly native English speakers – find very hard to pronounce: chrząszcz [beetle], szczaw [sorrel], ścieżka [path], szczęśliwy [happy]. They struggle to begin with – their speech apparatus is not accustomed to pronouncing such strange sound combinations. For them, these sounds are true “tongue twistersongue twisters” 🙂
Another thing foreigners have trouble with is recognising Polish letters when listening to the language. At first, they won’t be able to tell the difference between words such as ‘Kasia’, ‘kasza’ and ‘kasa’ because they sound practically the same to them. They will therefore almost certainly write them incorrectly. Hearing the difference requires a lot of practice and familiarity with Polish.
Challenge 2 – Polish inflectional ending
Another difficulty for foreign workers is the variety of inflectional endings used in declension (i.e. inflexion of nouns) and conjugation (i.e. inflexion of verbs). The concept of endings can be problematic for native English speakers: the purpose, the mechanism and the nature. Russian-speaking students have it easier because declension and conjugation are present in their language, too. However, all foreign workers have a hard time remembering the endings and applying them in practice. Poles do it automatically, without deliberating over the case of the noun or type of the verb. Foreign workers, on the other hand, have to stop and think to reach the correct word ending.
Challenge 3 – lots of exceptions
Almost all aspects of Polish are governed by respective rules. However, there are just as many exceptions. Very often all I can say to my students is: “This is just the way it is. Memorise it.” Over time, it turns out there are more and more exceptions to remember. This is difficult for them. It would be easier to memorise a couple of rules and apply them when necessary. The reality is that, apart from learning the rules, the students must learn just as many – if not more – exceptions.
Do their native languages hinder learning Polish?
As discussed earlier,
depending on the person’s native language, the rules governing Polish may seem easier or harder to grasp. If their language is drastically different from Polish, this may pose a significant challenge. Building another way of thinking, constructing sentences and mastering separate sets of rules that govern speaking and writing requires a lot of effort.
People whose language has similar elements to Polish will find it much easier to comprehend the rules; for example, people from the Slavic language group will pick up Polish much faster because the sounds are similar.
What type of support can Polish employers offer?
Offering Polish language classes is a very good idea. However, this is just one of many forms of support. Inviting foreign workers to social get-togethers and on trips is highly valuable as it integrates employees and allows foreign workers to see Poland and its places of value. Offering psychological and emotional support is also important. Employers should give staff time for linguistic and cultural assimilation. They should also be sympathetic and open to help with any difficulties.
Ensuring that foreign workers can regularly socialise with Polish colleagues is hugely beneficial as it will enable them to get to know Poles and “force” them to both speak Polish and listen to it in real-life situations.
Inviting a foreign worker to join your team means, among other things, supplementing your workforce. It is also a chance to promote the Polish language and culture. It’s worth understanding the difficulties faced by foreign workers and offering them help. Contact me if you need a translation of employee reports, employment contracts or other documentation.