|Unsuitable for adult learners|
I have before me the elementary reading textbook for two generations of Poles, Elementarz (1974), and it is hard to read. Here is a random example:
Kto to? To Ala i Ola.
Ala stoi i Ola stoi.
A to lalki Ali i Oli.
Lola stoi i Tola stoi.
A oto As Ali i osa.
As stoi. A osa lata.
Taka to ta osa.
Good luck finding clues to all that in a Polish for Foreigners elementary textbook. It was years before I discovered you can sometimes replace the verb "to be" with "to" and that it makes life simpler.
Thankfully, just like a six-year-old Polish child, I am now capable of figuring out Elementarz. Unlike a six-year-old Polish child, however, I have been horribly neglected these past six years. Polish ladies don't all smile at me just for living. I don't get daily universal admiration for my Polish skills. My family doesn't slowly and distinctly repeat what I say in Polish. There are no Polish cartoons on television, and I had to find songs for Polish children on my own.
On the plus side, I am big enough to wrestle my massive dictionary down from the shelf, I am allowed to go the library on my own, and I have enough money for Polish classes. When comparing children's ability to learn languages and adults' ability to learn languages, adults and children have different advantages. But the top lesson from Elementarz is that you should not be depressed if you can't read children's books after studying a language for three years. A three year old native speaker can't read them either.
But books meant for native children's literacy development are not interchangeable with books meant for foreign adults' linguistic development, so Elementarz should be put aside for a long time, reserved for such advanced japes as reciting its poems at parties. The Adult Way of Doing Language is served by three principal methods: Self-Study Series, Classes and Private Tutors. However, I recommend reading books about learning languages first. To learn more effectively, it's a good idea to learn HOW to learn.
How to Learn Languages Books and Blogs
When it came to learning Polish, I should have read "How to Learn" books first, but better late than never. I have profited very much in the past two years from reading books about language-learning and about memory-training. Here are my favourites:
How to Speak Any Language Fluently by Alex Rawlings
Make it Stick: the Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown
Success with Languages by Stella Hurd
Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner
Mezzofanti's Gift by Michael Erard.
Mezzofanti's Gift introduced me to the seductive world of hyper-polyglots and their blogs. My go-to online resource for language advice is Alexander Arguelles' Foreign Language Expertise.
I am a lot more comfortable writing than I am socialising with complete strangers, so the Benny Lewis Fluent in Three Months advice to go to a bar and start repeating your three weeks worth of gibberish to native speakers and bask in their admiration leaves me cold. And skeptical.
Pimsleur--Ideal for Pronunciation.
Because I was easily embarrassed six years ago, my first attempts to learn Polish involved Pimsleur. I took out the first Pimsleur Polish lessons from the library, and eventually my generous father bought me the whole Pimsleur Polish program as a gift. I will never forget shutting myself in the Georgian linen closet/library/laundry room in our flat with Pimsleur Polish 1 Lesson 1 and my acute embarrassment at repeating "Przepraszam" after the CD. To put this in perspective, I was alone in a huge house with thick walls in a spacious park with no neighbours, and yet I felt mortified.
Pimsleur programs are both incredibly brilliant and incredibly limited, and I recommend them as starting points because they are all about pronunciation and drilling the basics into your resistant brain and clumsy tongue. There are no reading materials. You will learn very few words, but if you obey the program you will learn how to say them perfectly.
Colloquial... (Routledge)--Good start to Grammar.
Our church organist very kindly gave me his Colloquial Polish (by Bolesław W. Mazur) set, and I never gave it back. I never finished it either, which is a pity, and I should take another look. I was working my way through when I began Polish classes a year later. Like Pimsleur, the "Colloquial" books have crucial listening materials, but they also teach reading and grammar.
Specialized Stuff--Keeps you going.
If you are learning one of the Big Languages--French, German, Russian, Japanese, Arabic--you will have no trouble finding self-study courses. Less popular languages for study, like Polish and Urdu, aren't covered by all the big publishing houses. But that's okay because there are smaller publishers who do cater to learners of one particular language.
The elementary Polish for Foreigners series in Poland (and at the University of Toronto) is Krok po Kroku, but a Polish friend gave me the text for Polish in 4 Weeks, and I read it from cover to cover. I did most of the exercises, and I was sad that the CD was missing.
After visiting it at the store a few times, I bought Part 2 of Polish in 4 Weeks. I listened religiously to the CD although I see I gave up on the exercises. This is probably because I felt class homework was enough.
(Suddenly I realise why Benedict Ambrose worried that I did nothing all day for years but study Polish. We interrupt this program so I can go tell him.)
Although I really loved Polish in 4 Weeks, and it certainly improved my grasp of grammar and listening comprehensions, it didn't adequately pour Polish into my stubborn brain. I now realise--thanks to Fluent Forever--that this was because I never studied the material.
Eventually I began to memorise the Polish in 4 Weeks dialogues, but I did this by writing out them out over and over again. In real life, you don't write out dialogues over and over again. You speak them. And yes, you do repeat the same things: who you are, where you are from, why you speak X, what you think of X-land, how your husband is doing today, and what you think of the appalling social changes sweeping your own miserable country.
I do have a set of Polish flashcards, which I basically had to go to Poland to get. Although I think flashcards are crucial to learning a language, I think they are more effective when you make them yourself and when you use words taken from an ongoing lesson, book or film. Flashcards isolated from context aren't great. And, besides, when it comes to words crucial to Polish social life like "oczepiny" (a series of traditional Polish wedding rituals), good luck finding them in a box of preprinted flashcards.
No matter what self-study series you use, you absolutely will not advance quickly if you do not do the hard work of memorisation and recall, preferably aloud.
Next up: university classes, day and night