Friday, 5 February 2016

Why Learn Polish?

Happy Saint Agatha's Day. Saint Agatha was not Polish, but she was the subject of a stirring sermon at First Friday Mass at my parish church circa 1979. At least one child went home afterwards and looked her up in Butler's Lives of the Saints to see what was so terrible about her death that the priest didn't want to tell us. Good psychology there, Father Bill. In honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Saint Agatha that now middle-aged child will begin the Nine Fridays today. Without anyone ever telling us what we were doing, my entire elementary school practiced the Nine Fridays for years. May we all be granted final perseverance despite our subsequent slacking.

But the topic of this Polski Piątek (Polish Friday) post is "Why Learn Polish?"--a not infrequent question to adult students of Polish. The habitual starter and quitter of language learning may often ask herself such a question, particularly after bruising arguments with Poles, e.g. on the topic of "Is stupid learning Polish."

So here is a fine list to brace faltering Polish learners and convince the curious:

1. Polish is the most important Slavic language west of Russia in terms of influence in Europe (particularly central-eastern Europe) and probably the USA.

2. It is harder than Russian, so if you learn it, Russian will be a snap.

3. Polish is very handy for holidays and pilgrimages in Poland.

4. Polish is now the "second language" of both Scotland and England.

5. Learning Polish will help stave off dementia. So will learning any other language, apparently, but Polish is just that much more of a mental workout.

6. Top Polish literature is so great in translation, it must be even better in Polish.

7. Polish teachers are kind to their students and bring them Polish sweets. If class falls on Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday), the teacher brings Polish doughnuts. FACT.

8. Poles are kinder to foreigners attempting to speak Polish than Other People I Could Mention when you attempt to speak their language. They are even kinder than (real, living-in-Italy) Italians about it, which is very kind indeed. Their attitude seems to be that of Samuel Johnson regarding women preaching:  It is not done well, but they are surprised to find it done at all.

9. Listened to objectively, Polish is quite beautiful. There is a feminine beauty to "Tylko miłość jest ważna" that "Only love is important" does not have. I mean, really: imm-porr--tant.  Bang, bang, thump. And "luv" is rather dull compared to the dramatic "mee-washch". And "tylko" could be played on a xylophone. Bing-bing MEE-washch yest soft-sweet.

10. Saint John Paul II thought and prayed his most personal prayers in Polish. Think about that. Consider also Sister Faustina if you're a big Faustina fan.

11. Polish Pretend Daughter said you could never do it. "It is too difficult." How maddening is that? And it may be this thought that actually sustains you through the years and makes you take up your pen and memorize another chunk of Polish complaint composed by your Polish teacher because:

12. Polish is the language of the stubborn and bloody-minded. It would survive a nuclear holocaust, or so said the new Polish professor at the University of Toronto four years ago. The desire to learn it and speak it will force you to become braver than you are and to appreciate the courage of others who strive to master foreign-to-them languages.

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