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 aspects they must face. Another issue is mastering Polish. For many foreigners, Polish is one of the more difficult languages. Still, speaking Polish gives them a sense of independence and competence.
What seems the biggest challenge? How can the employer help to overcome linguistic barriers? I discussed these concerns with an experienced Polish teacher, Klaudia Głowacka.
An experienced teacher of Polish as a foreign language. Her 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 – Polish alphabet
On one hand, foreign workers have difficulty with the pronunciation of many Polish graphemes (such as ś, ć, ź, ę, ą), in particular, digraphs (such as sz, cz, dz, rz, si, ci, etc.). And it’s not even about the pronunciation of single letters, but pronouncing them in words – these are words such as chrząszcz [beetle], szczaw [sorrel], ścieżka [path], szczęśliwy, etc. Very often, these graphemes occur in such combinations that for foreigners – particularly English native speakers – they are very difficult to pronounce. Initially, they can’t manage this challenge – their speech apparatus is not accustomed to pronouncing such strange sound combinations. For them, they are true “tongue twisters” 🙂
Another difficulty related to the Polish alphabet applies to their inability to recognise Polish letters when listening to Polish. I mean the fact that foreigners don’t recognise the difference between some Polish graphemes. Words such as ‘Kasia’, ‘kasza’, ‘kasa’ sound to them practically the same. In the beginning, they aren’t able to recognise these are different words altogether. They may also have a problem to see a difference in their sound. For sure, they will not be able to write them down correctly. 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). To start with, the concept of endings is difficult to understand for English-speaking persons. They have difficulty understanding 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 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. In contrast, foreign workers must first carry out thought process to reach the proper ending of a word.
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 a difficult moment 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 I mentioned before, depending on their native language, the rules governing Polish may seem easier or harder to understand. If their language is drastically different from Polish, overcoming such difficulties may be a significant challenge. It requires to build another way of thinking and constructing sentences. Mastering separate sets of rules that govern speaking and writing also requires a lot of effort.
For persons whose language has similar elements as Polish, it is much easier to comprehend the rules. Moreover, these are persons from the Slavic language group. Because the sounds are similar, they acquire Polish much faster.
What type of support Polish employers can offer?
Offering classes of Polish language is a very good idea. However, I think this is just one of many forms of support. I think that inviting foreign workers to any types of social meetings and trips is also highly valuable. This serves as a forum to integrate all company employees. Besides, it offers a chance to show Poland and its places of value to foreign workers. Another important idea is to offer psychological and emotional support. Employers should, I think, give their employees some time for linguistic and cultural assimilation. They should also be sympathetic and open to help in any difficulties.
Ensuring that foreign workers have frequent chance to socialise with Polish colleagues is also very helpful. This forms a great chance for them to get to know Poles and be, as if, forced, to speak Polish. This offers an opportunity to both speak the language and listen to it in real-life situations.
Inviting a foreign worker to join your team means, among others, supplementing your workforce. This 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.