Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Nick: Welcome back to PolishPod101.com! In this lesson, we'll show you how easy it is to start speaking Polish.
Beata: That's because we'll be focusing on pronunciation!
Nick: Believe it or not, pronunciation is one of the easiest aspects of the Polish language. We'll show you just how easy it is and give you some general tips on how to perfect your pronunciation.
Beata: In this lesson, first we'll talk briefly about Polish vowels, followed by an overview of Polish consonants and consonant clusters.
Nick: Okay, first we want to take a look at the vowel system in Polish. In Polish, there are nine vowels, which are then further divided into oral and nasal vowels.
Beata: The oral vowels are "-a," "-e," "-i," and "-o." Then we have two vowels that sound identical; however, they are spelled differently. They are "-u," spelled with the English letter "-u"; and "-ó" again, spelled with the vowel "-o" with a diacritical mark above it. The last vowel within the Polish vowel system is the vowel "-y." As you can hear, the oral vowels are pronounced very much like Spanish vowels. Their pronunciation is not affected by the surrounding sounds at all; they are always pronounced the same way.
Nick: It definitely makes your life easier if you can always pronounce the vowels the same way. For example, in English there are so many possible ways to pronounce one vowel that it's impossible for many people to master English pronunciation.
Beata: In Polish, this is absolutely not the case. Once you know how to produce certain sounds, stick with it and you can pronounce anything you want.
Nick: You also mentioned the other type of vowels, the nasal vowels.
Beata: Yes, that's correct. Polish is the only language among Slavic languages that has kept nasal sounds. You can find very similar sounds in French and Portuguese.
Nick: How many nasal vowels are there in Polish?
Beata: There are only two nasal vowels, and they are "-ę" and "-ą." The sound "-ę" is represented by the letter "-e" with a little hook attached to it, and the sound "-ą" is written with the letter "-a," also with a hook.
Nick: So the difference between the oral and nasal vowels is that the oral vowels are produced within the mouth area, whereas in the case of the nasal vowels, the air has to go mainly through the nose.
Beata: Yes, that's a very good point. With the nasal vowels, the air vibrates mainly through the nose and produces a twangy sound. Once again, we have "-ę" and "-ą."
Nick: "-Ę" and "-ą," okay. I know that the nasal vowels can change their pronunciation depending on their position within the word.
Beata: Yes, they can. In the accompanying PDF, you can find a list of possible pronunciations of these two vowels. Also, in our special series devoted to Polish pronunciation, you can listen and analyze how their pronunciation changes based on the consonants they follow.
Nick: What about Polish consonants?
Beata: In Polish, there are twenty-three consonants. On top of that, those consonants can form so-called consonant clusters, which consist of either one consonant and one vowel, two consonants, or two consonants and one vowel.
Nick: Wow, that's a lot of consonants. Is there at least some consistency as to how to pronounce them?
Beata: Yes, there is a lot of consistency. The way they are pronounced is very close to Latin pronunciation. I have to say, though, that some consonants can change their pronunciation depending on their position within a word or at the boundaries of certain words, but we will give you all the rules you need to master it.
Nick: Yes, in our special course on pronunciation, we will be talking about every single detail concerning Polish pronunciation.
Beata: What's also characteristic for the Polish consonant system is that some consonants have so-called diacritical marks above them, such as an acute mark or a dot.
Nick: Could you explain to our listeners what those diacritics do?
Beata: Sure. Basically, diacritics influence the pronunciation of a given consonant or a vowel.
Nick: Could you give us some examples?
Beata: For example, the consonant "-z" is pronounced in Polish [z]. If you add an acute mark to it, it will be pronounced [ź]. On the other hand, if you add a dot to the consonant "-z," it will become [ż.]
Nick: So the letters "-z," "-ź" with an acute mark, and "-ż" with a dot represent three different sounds.
Beata: Very good. Also, we have in Polish two versions of the letter "-l." Our regular "-l" is pronounced more or less the same as in Spanish, [l] as in "lata." Our second "-l" is written with a line drawn through it or sometimes over it, and is pronounced [ł] as in "łata."
Nick: Okay, so just to compare "-l" and "-ł," let's say those two words again…"lata" and "łata." Can you hear the difference?
Beata: Absolutely. The difference between those two sounds is readily distinguishable, I think.
Nick: Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners?
Beata: I would like to go back for a second to the consonant clusters. The idea behind them is that, like we mentioned before, they consist of at least two letters; however, they are pronounced as one sound. Let's take, for example, the cluster "-sz" that consists of the letters "-s" and "-z." Even though this cluster is represented by two consonants, when I pronounce it, you can only hear one sound, [sz].
Nick: We have the same situation with the another consonant cluster, "-dż." Even though it consists of the letters "d" and "z" with a dot, it still stands for one sound, [dż].
Beata: Wonderful example. You got it, Nick. To get good at this, practice copying native speakers.
Nick: That's right. Keep in mind that listening and repeating is really the key to improving your pronunciation. Listen to and copy native speakers as much as you can.