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Beata: All About Polish Lesson 12 - Top 5 Classroom Phrases in Polish
Nick: Hi, everyone, and welcome back to the All About series!
Beata: "Cześć."
Nick: You're in for a very useful lesson today.
Beata: That's right. We're here to give you some tips on how to avoid common mistakes made by learners of the Polish language.
Nick: Now, remember, there's nothing wrong with making mistakes.
Beata: It's how you learn.
Nick: Today we'll just give you a heads-up so that you'll know what to look out for. We hope it will make your Polish language learning experience a lot easier!
Beata: Let's get started!
Nick: Tip number one…don't forget about gender agreement!
Beata: Remember that in Polish, every noun has a gender assigned to it. Knowing the gender of a noun is essential as it determines the forms of adjectives, pronouns, and numbers that describe this one particular noun.
Nick: We would like to equip you with some simple rules that will help you choose the right gender of a noun. Remember that the easiest way to recognize the noun's gender is to look at its nominative singular form.
Beata: Masculine nouns usually end in a consonant. For example…"telefon" ("telephone") or "nauczyciel" ("teacher").
Nick: You must keep in mind, however, that there are also some important masculine nouns that end in the vowel "-a," such as "dentysta" ("dentist") or "mężczyzna" ("man"). The masculine nouns that end in the vowel "-a" refer to masculine professions or roles generally filed by males.
Beata: Feminine nouns most often end in the vowel "-a." For example…"kobieta" ("woman") or "lampa" ("lamp"). There's also a small group of feminine nouns that end in the vowel "-i." One of the examples would be the word "pani" ("ma'am").
Nick: And finally, we have neuter nouns, which we can recognize easily from their four different endings. The first one is the nasal vowel "-ę," as in words such as "imię" ("name") or "kurczę" ("chick"). Then we have the vowel "-o." For example…"krzesło" ("chair") or "okno" ("window").
Beata: There is also the ending "-e," in words like "morze" ("sea") or "słońce" ("sun"). And finally, the syllable "-um," which is characteristic of words of Latin origin. For example..."muzeum" ("museum") or "liceum" ("high school").
Nick: So, in total, there are four possible endings for neuter nouns. Okay, Beata, so we know how to recognize the gender of a noun. How is this knowledge going to help us with the gender agreement issue?
Beata: Once you know the gender of a particular noun, you then can easily decide what form of adjective, pronoun, or number describing your noun you want to use. Adjectives, pronouns, and numbers will have to adjust their forms so they agree with the noun they are referring to.
Nick: Could you give us some examples?
Beata: Let's take for example the adjective "new," which in Polish is "nowy," and let's see how the form of this adjective is going to change when describing a masculine, feminine, and neuter noun.
Nick: So, if we have a masculine noun, "telefon," the form of "nowy," which is already presented in the masculine form, will stay the same.
Beata: Very good. So the phrase "new telephone" will be in Polish "nowy telefon."
Nick: Now, if we have the feminine noun "lampa," the form of "nowy" will become "nowa."
Beata: So, this time, the phrase "new lamp" will be in Polish "nowa lampa." The adjective "nowy" had to change its form to "nowa" because now it's describing a feminine noun.
Nick: And finally, in the case of neuter nouns, the adjective "nowy" will change its form to "nowe" with the vowel "-e" at the end. So if you would like to say "new chair," it's going to be "nowe krzesło" in Polish.
Beata: I would like to stress that all the forms that we presented in our examples are in the nominative singular form.
Nick: I understand that the same rules will apply to pronouns and numbers that are meant to describe a noun.
Beata: Absolutely. Whenever an adjective, a pronoun, or a number describes a noun, they always have to take on this noun's gender.
Nick: I can see why it's easy to make mistakes with gender agreement. When speaking, you simply have to know the gender of a given noun beforehand and adjust the endings in no time.
Beata: That is tough, but, again, practice makes perfect.
Nick: Great, so let's move on to the next common mistake, which is...
Beata: declension of surnames, both Polish and foreign. When foreigners see surnames such as "Nowak," "Nowakiem," or "Nowakowi," they think that these are three different surnames. In fact, they are not. The forms "Nowak," "Nowakiem," and "Nowakowi" are three different versions of the same surname, but they are in different grammatical cases.
Nick: You have to remember that all Polish and most foreign surnames are declined according to the seven grammatical cases that we have mentioned in lesson three of this All About series.
Beata: Some surnames will be declined like nouns. For example, as we already mentioned, "Nowak." On the other hand, there are also surnames that need to be declined like adjectives. For example, my surname, "Szczepańska."
Nick: From what I know, there are countless numbers of rules as to how to decline names...
Beata: what declension to use...
Nick: and in the case of foreign names, whether to keep their original spelling or use their Polish equivalent.
Beata: We simply want you to be aware of this feature of the Polish language. We're not going to give you any golden ideas as to how to cope with this problem.
Nick: The only thing we can recommend is to go and buy yourself a good dictionary or a resource book that will have different declension types and some examples. In the accompanying PDF, you can find some great titles that will help you with this feature.
Beata: You can also try to choose a couple of names that would represent different declension types, and then, if it's possible, try to memorize them and apply them accordingly. But I'm sure it's going to be very difficult to do. However, don't get discouraged. You are definitely not alone.
Nick: As always, it's a matter of practice and listening to native speakers. What's the next tip on our list?
Beata: Tip number three is be aware of the aspect of verbs in Polish.
Nick: I have the impression that we've mentioned this feature on numerous occasions already.
Beata: Yes, we have. This feature is used to express whether an action has been completed or will be completed in the future. When an action has been or will be completed, we have to use perfective verbs. However, when an action is still in progress or is repeated on a regular basis, imperfective verbs would be the appropriate choice.
Nick: Let's compare two examples, one using a perfective verb and one using an imperfective verb.
Beata: The sentence "Wczoraj przeczytałem całą książkę," which translates to "Yesterday, I read a whole book," uses the perfective verb "przeczytać" ("to read") because the book is read through entirely. I finished reading this book.
Nick: But if I would like to say that "Wczoraj od ósmej do dziesiątej czytałem książkę," meaning "Yesterday, I was reading a book from eight to ten o'clock," I have to use the imperfective verb "czytać" because I'm still not done reading this book. I haven't read the whole book yet.
Beata: Very good. This is more or less the idea behind the verb feature called aspect.
Nick: Once you've understood when to use perfective verbs and when to use imperfective verbs, now you have to learn by heart hundreds and hundreds of verb pairs.
Beata: That's true. Almost every verb in English will have two counterparts in Polish, one imperfective and one perfective, which you simply have to memorize. In our sample sentences, we had the perfective verb "przeczytać" and the imperfective verb "czytać," both meaning "to read."
Nick: So once you know the theory and you've memorized all those verbs, then it's time to speak and use those verbs in practice. This is a lot of fun. I mean, I know Polish pretty well, but sometimes I am still at my wit's end when it comes to choosing between a perfective and an imperfective verb when I speak.
Beata: It's going to take a lot of time, but try to speak as much as you can and listen to people speak Polish.
Nick: I couldn't agree more. Listening to other people speak Polish will help you observe certain patterns as to when to use imperfective and perfective verbs. Just give yourself some time and we're sure you'll catch on in no time.
Beata: Absolutely. No rush.
Nick: Let's move on, then, to tip number four…learn Polish possessive pronouns from the beginning.
Beata: Polish has two different sets of possessive pronouns.
Nick: Why am I not surprised? (laugh)
Beata: The first set consists of regular possessive pronouns, such as "mój," meaning "my," "twój," meaning "your," and so on.
Nick: But there are also three additional pronouns…"swój," used to describe a masculine noun, "swoja," used to describe a feminine noun, and "swoje," used when we describe a neuter noun. This second set of pronouns is to be used instead of the regular possessive pronouns— - "my," "your," "his," etc..— - when...
Beata: the subject of the sentence is also the owner of the object of the sentence.
Nick: When the subject of the sentence is also the owner of the object of the sentence?
Beata: I see you're a bit confused by my explanation, so let's use an example to try to clear things up a bit for you.
Nick: Please.
Beata: In the sentence "Ona ma swoje ciasto," which means "She has her own cake," she (the object) is the owner of the cake (the subject), which is why we have to use the pronoun "swoje."
Nick: But if we would change the pronoun "swoje" ("her own") to "jej" ("her"), "Ona ma jej ciasto," meaning "She has her cake," it would mean that she is in the possession of someone else's cake, right?
Beata: Very good. The pronouns swój," "swoja," and "swoje" always refer to something that's yours.
Nick: I think I got it. (laugh) Okay, and the last tip we have for you today will be about three rather important verbs…"wiedzieć," "znać," and "umieć." What's interesting about these verbs is that they all mean "to know"; however, they are used to express different aspects of "knowing."
Beata: Okay, so let's start with the verb "wiedzieć," which has the first-person singular form "wiem" ("I know") and the second-person singular form "wiesz" ("you know"). We use this verb to express knowledge about facts concerning people, history, weather, and so on.
Nick: For example…"Czy wiesz, ile Anna ma lat?" meaning "Do you know how old Anna is?"
Beata: In case of the verb "wiedzieć," you will always have, in a way, two questions. The first one will be "do you know?" then followed by the actual question, which in our case is "how old is Anna?"
Nick: Now, let's talk about the verb "znać," also meaning "to know," with the first-person singular form "znam" ("I know") and the second-person singular form "znasz" ("you know.") What kind of knowledge does this verb express?
Beata: First of all, we use "znać" to say that we know a person. For example…"Znam Tomka" ("I know Tom.").
Nick: I know that in order to express knowledge of a foreign language you also have to use the verb "znać." For example…"Znam język polski" ("I know the Polish language.").
Beata: Great example. The last meaning of "znać" would be "to convey familiarity with something." For example…"Znam te piosenkę" ("I know this song.").
Nick: So, it looks to me like the verb "znać" is more direct than the verb "wiedzieć."
Beata: Very good observation.
Nick: Okay, so the last verb we have is "umieć," with the first-person singular form "umiem" ("I know") and the second-person singular form "umiesz" ("you know").
Beata: The verb "umieć" could be also translated as "to be able to do something," or "to know how to do something."
Nick: A good example might be "Umiem grać na gitarze" ("I know how to play the guitar.").
Beata: Or, for example, "Oni nie umieją pływać" ("They don't know how to swim.").
Nick: All right, well, there you have it, our top five tips for avoiding common mistakes in Polish!
Beata: Keep these in mind and your Polish learning experience will be a lot easier!
Nick: You'll be on the right track!

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