The easier and the harder aspects of learning Polish

Is Polish hard to learn? When you see this question in Polish — “Czy język polski jest trudny do nauczenia?” — you might feel inclined to answer “tak,” the Polish word for “yes.”

As you can see, Polish uses a version of the Latin alphabet. In English, we also use the Latin alphabet.

So Polish is one of those Slavic languages that uses the Latin alphabet. That is also the case for Czech, Slovak, and Slovene, while some other Slavic languages, such as Russian and Bulgarian, use the Cyrillic alphabet instead.

The familiar Latin alphabet simplifies a bit the process of learning Polish. But as this example sentence shows, most Polish words are very different from their English equivalents —and many contain consonant clusters that can be difficult to pronounce.

Polish and English are distantly related languages

Linguists study how languages evolve and organize them into families of related languages, just as biologists classify plants and animals.

Foreign languages that are closely related to one’s native language, are, in general, easier to learn. The difficulty of learning Polish as a native English speaker depends, therefore, on the linguistic proximity between Polish and English.

Polish is a Slavic language and English is a Germanic language. The two are not completely unrelated because Slavic and Germanic languages are two branches of the vast Indo-European language family.

That doesn’t necessarily imply a strong connection between Polish and English because the Indo-European language family is very large.

The Indo-European language family contains most European languages (Hungarian and Finnish are among the few exceptions), as well as Russian, Persian, and several languages of India, like Hindi and Bengali.

So, while Polish and English are not entirely unrelated languages, the connection is fairly remote.


If you browse through the thousand most common Polish words, you will quickly notice that very few of them resemble their English translations.

Because there is so little overlap between Polish and English vocabulary, learning Polish requires extra effort for English speakers to memorize all these new and unfamiliar words.

This sets Polish apart from easier-to-learn languages like Italian, with its Latin-based words that often align with their English counterparts, or Dutch, with its Germanic words that frequently resemble their English translations.

In Polish, most words have Slavic roots. While in English, most words have Germanic or Latin roots.

Another intimidating and rather difficult aspect of Polish vocabulary words is the frequent occurrence of consonant clusters within those words. For example, look at the following Polish words: “wzgórze” (hill), “Chrząszcz” (beetle), and “najczęstszy” (most frequent).

English speakers are used to words that have only a few consonants before the appearance of a vowel. Polish words that have many consonants in a row are difficult for them to pronounce.


Vocabulary is not the only difficult aspect of learning Polish. The grammar is also challenging because it is, in many ways, rather different from English grammar.

In Polish, nouns have grammatical genders. Sure, so do Spanish, French, and Italian, and those are among the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. But Polish has three (masculine, feminine, and neuter), while Spanish, French, and Italian have just two.

Well, you might point out that German has three grammatical genders, and it’s not that difficult a language. And yes, that is true —but German has only four grammatical cases, while Polish has seven.

Grammatical case declensions are one of the things that contribute to making Polish difficult for English speakers to learn. While they did exist in Old English, they have pretty much disappeared from modern English (except for pronouns which do change depending on the case).


The notion that Polish is a rather difficult language for English speakers to learn also aligns with the language difficulty ratings published by the Foreign Service Insitute.

They classify languages into four groups based on their difficulty level for English learners. The easiest languages (Spanish, Italian, Dutch, etc) are in group 1, and the hardest (Chinese, Japanese, Arabic) are in group 4.

Polish is in group 3, together with most other Slavic languages. Based on their estimate, it takes about 1100 class hours (44 weeks of full-time study) to reach a working proficiency in Polish.