Friday, 3 June 2016

Bardzo Kolokwialny!

It's Polski Piątek, so I will contemplate the fact that last Friday there was a Polish language expert staying in the Historical House. This was less nourishing for my polszczyzna than you might expect, for it is against the laws of hospitality to tie up guests and make them listen to you read "Baltic, pies, który płynał na krze" (i.e. Baltic, the Dog who Sailed on an Ice Floe). However, I spoke to my guest first thing every morning, when he was most vulnerable, with cheery Polish greetings:

Me: Good morning!

PPS: Good morning.

Me: Did you spleep well?

PPS: No. Not spleep. Sleep.

Me: Spleep?

PPS: NO! Sleep!

Me: Oh! Did you sleep well?

PPS: [Incomprehensible idiomatic expression]

PPS is greatly given to incomprehensible idiomatic expressions, which he calls "real Polish" and which my Polish teacher, when I manage to repeat them, calls "bardzo kolokwialny (i.e. very colloquial)!" I am always delighted when I innocently trot out some phrase which staggers my Polish teacher, for it means I have actually absorbed something from all my extramural efforts.

The sad thing is that although I am enthusiastic and hard-working, my incredibly lazy ears have rendered me selectively deaf. For example, I have never been able to understand the lyrics of songs the first time I hear them. This meant that the popular music I know best is the oeuvre of ABBA, for my mother had their albums, and the albums had liner notes. (This is in direct and startling contrast to my brother, who could hear Allegri's Miserere once and then write it all down from memory.) It also means that if PPS deviates from the conversational outlines laid out by my Polish teacher, Polish in Four Weeks, Colloquial Polish and Pimsleur, I panic and my brain shuts off.

Me: Hello! I'm so happy you're here!

PPS:  Miło cię widzieć.

Me: Please to repeat.

PPS: Miło cię widzieć.

Me: .....

As a matter of fact, miło cię widzieć literally means "Nice to see you" (or nicely you to see, to be super-literal), so I'm not even sure it is as colloquial as "Jak leci?" (lit: How's it flying?) which is the equivalent of our colloquial "How's it going?"  (I asked two classmates "Jak leci?" yesterday, and they made no response whatsoever.) And taken separately, I knew the meanings of every single word. Obviously I should have been able to figure it out after a second, but no. I panicked.

Falling down so early in a conversation is incredibly humiliating, but this chap (featured in Mezzofanti's Gift) is so convinced that humiliation is part of language-learning that he recommends learners stride about a public park shouting out the foreign sounds they are listening to over headphones. Boiled down the advice seems to be, "Yes, attempting to speak a new language is embarrassing. Get over it."

My best attempts at Polish conversation happened at a dinner party on Sunday where I drank a glass of wine and enjoyed myself by being childishly rude. My mother was ever of the opinion that it is rude to speak foreign languages in front of people who do not understand them--which must make her hometown one of the rudest places on earth--but she never hinted that it might be liberating and fun. She did, however, reveal that in the 1970s was easier for her to speak Russian when she had had a skinful, and so it is with me and Polish. Wine is relaxing, and by definition when you are relaxed, you don't panic and forget everything you ever learned.

However, even better than wine is immersion, so now I am going to listen to dialogues on Polish in Four Weeks. Unfortunately there are no early morning conversations in the kitchen, and nobody ever asks anyone else if they slept well.


  1. I'm the same with song lyrics!

    By the way, is your brother the young Mozart? Mozart, when a youth, heard Allegri's Miserere one time at the Vatican and transcribed it.

    Is 'real Polish' anything like 'Strayan' (aka 'bogan')?

  2. "Real Polish" as spoken by well-educated Poles is unlikely to be anything like Strayan. I don't know about Australia, but although "How's it going?" is probably not taught in ESL, Canadians of all economic backgrounds use the expression.

    Clever you for remembering the Mozart story!

  3. Heh, I was coming here to write the same thing - is your brother Mozart?
    My father is like that with song lyrics. Except he just makes up his own and then never learns the real ones because he sings his own version so often. My sisters and I would roll our eyes at him constantly.

    Aussie girl in NZ

  4. My sister compliments me with hyperbole. Sadly, it wasn't Allegri's "Miserere." It was TVO's "Polka Dot Door." The latter was never played in the Vatican, despite the line "With Songs and Stories and so much more..!" which really should be picked up by the Pontifical PR Office.