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Lesson Transcript

Nick: Nick here. Welcome to PolishPod101.com Pronunciation Season 1, Lesson 1 - So Many Polish Consonants, So Few Polish Vowels.
Beata: "Witamy."
Nick: Welcome to our Pronunciation Series. In this lesson, we're going to start with the basics and slowly work our way up!
Beata: First, we'll talk about the Polish language in general, so that afterward we can move on to the Polish vowel system.
Nick: Using simple examples and exercises, we will teach you how to produce different vowels. You'll see that it's not that complicated after all.
Beata: A good foundation is what you need.
Nick: So, Beata, what can you tell us about the language itself?
Beata: The Polish language belongs to the Slavic family of languages, along with Russian, Slovak, and Macedonian. It's spoken by roughly thirty-eight million Poles living within its borders and by approximately ten million Poles who live abroad.
Nick: What does the Polish alphabet look like?
Beata: The Polish alphabet is based on the Roman alphabet, the same one that is used in English.
Nick: So, at least this part is easy.
Beata: It consists of nine vowels and twenty-three consonants, with some being very easy to pronounce and some being quite the opposite.
Nick: Today, we would like to focus on the Polish vowels. You already said that there are nine vowels. Let's listen to them.
Woman: "-a," "-e," "-i," "-o," "-u," "-ó," "-y," "-ę," "-ą"
Man: "-a," "-e," "-i," "-o," "-u," "-ó," "-y," "-ę," "-ą"
Beata: The first seven vowels, "-a," "-e," "-i," "-o," "-u," "-ó," and "-y," are the oral vowels, which means that they are produced within the mouth area. The vowels "-ą" and "-ę" are produced within the nose area, hence their name, the nasal vowels.
Nick: Let's first go through the oral vowels.
Beata: What's great about the oral vowels is that no matter what position they are in, they are always pronounced the same way.
Nick: This is contrary to the English vowels, which can have many possible pronunciations.
Beata: Depending on the place of articulation, oral vowels can be further divided into front, central, and back vowels.
Nick: Let's begin with the front vowels. Which ones are the front vowels?
Beata: The vowels "-i" (English "-i"), "-y" (English "-y"), and "-e" (English "-e") are the front vowels.
Nick: What exactly does the term "front vowel" mean?
Beata: Like we mentioned before, the term "front vowels" refers to the place of articulation, that is, to the place where those vowels are being produced. In the case of the front vowels, they are all produced within the front part of your mouth.
Nick: Could you give us some examples?
Beata: Please repeat after me…"-I" as in the English words "feet" and "meet."
Nick: "-I."
Beata: "-Y" as in "if" and "myth."
Nick: "-Y."
Beata: And "-e" as in "pen" and "ten."
Nick: "-E."
Beata: So once again, the front vowels are "-i" (English "-i"), "-y" (English "-y"), and "-e" (English "-e"). I don't know if you've noticed, but all those vowels are produced within the front part of your mouth..."-i," "-y," "-e."
Nick: Could you now give us some Polish examples with the front vowels?
Beata: Sure. I am going to say groups of three words each, each one having a different front vowel. Please repeat after me and try to make the same sounds…
"Mit" "Myt" "Met"
"Mi" "My" "Me"
"Nowi" "Nowy" "Nowe"
"Znani" "Znany" "Znane"
Nick: Okay, now let's move on to the central vowels.
Beata: Luckily for you, central vowels are only represented by one sound, and that is a wide-open sound "-a" (English "-a").
Nick: "-A."
Beata: Nick, would we be able to find the Polish sound [a] in any English words?
Nick: I think the closest pronunciation would be in words "father" and "body."
Beata: When pronouncing the vowel "-a," your mouth should be wide open…"-a."
Nick: And finally we have the back vowels, which are "-u" (English "-u"), "-ó" (no English written equivalent; however, it is pronounced the same as the English "-u"), and "-o" ("English "-o").
Beata: Great. So we have two back vowels in Polish that are spelled differently; however, they are pronounced identically.
Nick: Could you explain more?
Beata: Sure. The first one, a so-called open "-u," is spelled like a regular English "-u," whereas the other sound, a so-called closed "-ó," is spelled with the letter "-o" and an acute mark above it. They are both, however, pronounced the same way as "-u."
Nick: Any English examples that would illustrate their pronunciation?
Beata: Both the open "-u" and the closed "-ó" would be pronounced as the double [oo] in words such as "moon" or as "-u" in the word "dune."
Nick: Are the open "-u" and closed "-ó" used interchangeably?
Beata: No, they are not. There are certain spelling rules that dictate when to use each of these two vowels.
Nick: What about the third and last back vowel, "-o," (English "-o")? Any English examples?
Beata: The pronunciation of the letter "-o" in the English words such as "moment" and "slow" most resembles the way the Polish "-o" should be pronounced.
Nick: So, to sum it up, there are three back vowels in Polish…an open "-u," a closed "-ó," and "-o."
Beata: Just to check how much you remember so far from our lesson, we want you to repeat three words after me…"pić," "kuć," and "tyć."
Nick: "Pić," "kuć," "tyć."
Beata: You should start in the front part of your mouth with the first word, "pić," since "-i" (English "-i") belongs to the front vowels. Then…
Nick: when saying the word "kuć," your tongue should move to the back part of your mouth since the vowel "-u" represents the group of back vowels and…
Beata: finally, when producing the word "tyć," your tongue should be placed again up front because the vowel "-y" (English "-y") is a front vowel.
Nick: Great. So, with this exercise, we covered the seven oral vowels in Polish with three of them, "-i," "-y," and "-e," being the front vowels, one central vowel, "-a," and again three back vowels, an open "-u," a closed "-ó," and "-o."
Beata: Now it's time to talk a bit about nasal vowels.
Nick: Since there are only two of them, it shouldn't be so complicated, right?
Beata: We'll see. (laugh) Polish is the only language among all the other Slavic languages that still has nasal vowels. You can also find nasal vowels in languages like French. What's specific for those sounds it that the air vibrates mainly through the nose and produces a twangy sound.
Nick: What's the first nasal vowel?
Beata: It's "-ę."
Nick: "-Ę." Its written form is the letter "-e" with a little hook attached to it.
Beata: The other nasal vowel is "-ą."
Nick: "-Ą." This sound is represented by the letter "-a," also with a hook.
Beata: So, once again, the two nasal sounds in Polish are "-ę" and "-ą."
Nick: Are they always pronounced the same way, as "-ę" and "-ą," or does their pronunciation change?
Beata: Unfortunately, their pronunciation changes depending on the letter that follows the nasal vowels.
Nick: So we don't bore you, we will only give you a few examples. For additional information, please refer to the accompanying PDF for this lesson.
Beata: When both "-ę" and "-ą" appear before the consonant "-s," they keep their nasality. For example…"kęs," meaning "bite," or wąs, meaning "mustache."
Nick: When "-ę" appears before the consonant "-l," it's pronounced as "-e." For example…"kopnęli" ("they kicked"). In case of the vowel "-ą," if it appears in front of "-ł," it's pronounced as "-o." For instance…"dotknął" ("he touched").
Beata: If the nasal vowel "-ę" appears at the end of a word, you can pronounce it either as a nasal vowel "-ę" or as a front oral vowel "-e." For example…the word "się" can be pronounced as "sie" or "się." Both pronunciations are correct. In the case of the vowel "-ą," if it appears at the end, it's always pronounced nasally as "-ą." For example…"idą" or "siedzą."
Nick: Don't worry if you're not able to remember all those examples and rules. It will come with practice and time.
Beata: Absolutely! The more you listen to people speak, the easier and easier it's going to be for you.
Nick: All right, so we've covered all the vowels in Polish and the way they're pronounced.
Beata: So keep practicing and don't give up!
Nick: Remember, you can leave us a comment on this lesson.
Beata: So if you have a question or some feedback, please leave us a comment!
Nick: It's very easy to do. Just stop by PolishPod101.com,
Beata: ...click on comments,
Nick: ...enter your comment and name,
Beata: ...and that's it!
Nick: No excuses. We're looking forward to hearing from you!
Beata: "Cześć."
Nick: Bye.