One of my students (a Polish linguistic) once found the right words to describe the impression you have when you start learning Polish:” It is a nightmare! “ she said, and just said what I was thinking. There are several reasons I discovered on my “period of suffering” that could be reasons to hold the popular view that Polish is the most difficult language in the world. So, is it true or not?
First of all I would name the phonetics. After surviving the first shock when you see the alphabet ( there are some suprises such as: ą, ę, ć, ł, ń, ś, ż, ź… ) which are actually not too difficult to remember, you will notice that the language definitely lacks in vocals. The most famous tongue breaker proves it only too well: „W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.” (In Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed, for which Szczebrzeszyn is famous.) is a very convincing proof. As a non native Speaker I feel that sometimes everything is shshsh. At the latest when you make the famous mistake of saying “Dzień dobry” instead of “Dziękuję” and vice versa, you will feel quite discouraged and probably a bit stupid as well.
Second of all, and worldwide famous: the Grammar. Did you know that you have 17 different forms of the number 2 in Polish? I proudly present: dwa, dwie,dwoje, dwóch (or dwu),dwa, dwiema,dwom (or dwóm),dwoma, dwojga, dwojgu,dwojgiem,dwójka,dwójki,dwójkę,dwójką,dwójce and dwójko! So the mere act of buying two beers is an adventure for every foreigner, who tries to not act like a random tourist and cry out a simple “Piwo!”. And this example this is just one among many. Another daily challenge are, of course, the 7 cases of Polish language. As a German native speaker, I saw a lot of time how difficult it can be to learn the cases.Anyway in German you have just 4 of them, and there are usually logical and quite strict rules when to use which. In Polish, as Polish people tend to say quite often, you favour the exceptions instead of establishing rules. There is, for instance, the distinction of things that are alive and not alive, that determines the ending of a noun. So you obviously say: “Mam komputer” (I have a computer) but at the same time you say “Mam laptopa” (I have a laptop),because the laptop is alive and the computer not – I got it…! And you really a declinate every noun, without mercy! Frank Sinatra, becomes Franka Synatry and Marek, Marka.So in the end you might know a noun or a name but that does not necessarily mean, that you are to recognize it when you are trying to have a real conversation.
Despite of the grammar,and the phonetics I must confess: I really want to learn Polish and I started to like the language. To my mind, there are even more reasons to learn it than you could ever name to scare people by saying that it is “ the most difficult language of the world”. Polish language is, indeed, beautiful because it has so many faces. Sometimes, when words include the nasal sounds, such as “ą” or “ę” it can sound just like French. Another time, the strong “r” dominates, and you can really feel the Slavic origin or just come back to the lovely shshsh. It is, as I discovered in Poland also a deeply musical language. In my opinion it sounds as if it was just made for reagge! As language is really a passion of mine I am even collecting words I like in Polish language. I could explain why, but words such as ”mgła” “niedźwiedź”, or “Uwaga” sound like magic to me.
As Krakow is one of the few “cities of literature” in the world, it is also a big motivation to understand polish literature, especially Polish poetry. There are uncountable book shops, literature events cafes and libraries. At one point the city of Krakow even housed two living novel price winner (Czesław miłosz and Wisława Szymborska). Doesn’t that makes you want to understand their work in their mother tongue?
What is still more important though, is the actual gain you have from learning Polish. It is a very good base to learn a lot of other Slavic languages: Apart from Czech, Slovak, Sorbian, which are really close to Polish, you will probably notice a facility for Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, and so on. And as the icing of the cake it definitely is the key to Polish society. Polish people know that their language is very difficult, so they appreciate all your tries, and help you whenever they can. And although, as I explained before, they might not smile at you so often, they will do so when you try to talk in their language. At the latest when you say “Mówię kali jeść kali pić ” (meaning that you don’t use any Grammar at all and you refer to the honoured Henryk Sienkiewicz, as Kali is one of his literatary characters) they will smile for sure!