Studying Polish, day 2: getting familiar with some grammar concepts

So I spent a few hours playing with parallel texts, trying to solve the puzzle of Polish. I tried to stay curious, and pretended that I was searching through the text of a secret language that I had to figure out. One of the tools that I used for this was a firefox plugin called “Babelfish”, which allowed me to hold my mouse over a Polish word and have it pop up a translation. I can also highlight several words at once and get a translation of the phrase. This is just an additional tool to the parallel text, which already gives me the proper translation of the full sentence, but in a language like this that is really different from the ones I know, it helps to break it down even further to a word-by-word translation.

I gained some familiarity with the language – what it looks like and sounds like, and some of the words. I’ve started today with a different approach, though. I looked online for collections of example sentences that show the structure of Polish. I’m briefly reading about the different cases, genders, verb tenses, and all that sort of stuff. I’m not trying to memorize the tables; I’m focusing on finding easy example sentences that illustrate the concepts, so that I’ll be able to recognize some of them when I go back to reading my books.

I think it was important to try the books first, because it gave me some questions that need answering. As I read through the grammar examples, I’m not seeing the concepts for the first time. Instead, they are explanations of things that I’ve already seen in the real language, and therefore it’s more of an “Aha!” moment of realization when I see something. This helps to cement the concept in my mind, because I’m relating it to something that is already in there.

The same idea will help when I go back to my books to try and read more. When I see a certain case ending, or verb conjugation, perhaps I’ll be reminded of one of the example sentences that I read this morning.

My emphasis is always curiousity and enjoyment. If I’m finding the grammar examples interesting, then I’ll continue. If they get boring, I won’t feel any guilt or pressure to continue; it just means I need to go back to my books and find something that’s fun. To keep up the motivation to study, you just have to follow what’s fun. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.

After that brief overview of Polish grammar, I’m finding it much easier to pick out which words match with which, in my parallel text. Although I don’t necessarily remember which ending means which case, what I do remember is enough to indicate that a certain word is a noun and the word beside it is an adjective, and another word is a verb in past tense. This allows me to match up the words with the English equivalents much faster, which means I have to spend less time investigating each word.

My book for today is Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”, called “Alchemik” in Polish. Earthsea is a rather challenging book in comparison, and I decided to try something simpler. I really enjoyed reading The Alchemist in Swedish, and I know the story quite well, so I figured it’d be fun to try in Polish. It uses simple language, but still has a deep and interesting plot. There’s lots of very simple dialog between the characters. I like the way that he conveys interesting ideas without using too much flowery language, which also makes it ideal for learning languages.

Because I’m very familiar with the book, I also know which words will be repeated often in the coming pages, so I try to focus my attention on those. Hopefully I’ll recognize them when they come up again. I’m also trying to pay more attention to sentences that have a really common verb like read, eat, drink, walk. I know that those sorts of words will come up again everywhere, so I want to focus more on them instead of the more obscure verbs.

I find it fun to give myself a small task when I read too. It could be paying attention to certain sounds, or looking for common words, focusing on endings, etc. It just gives some extra meaning to my activity, along with enjoying the story. At this point, I’m not getting any of the story from the Polish side, so that’s another reason why I find it helpful to have a small sub-task to work on too, which keeps my attention focused on the Polish words, even if I don’t understand them yet.

2 Responses to Studying Polish, day 2: getting familiar with some grammar concepts

  1. Jonathan says:

    I read your post about the Japanese students who decided to read 1 million words in English, and thought, “Hey, that’s something I can do since I read all the time anyway.” So I decided to finally learn Spanish.

    Although Spanish has tons of cognates, unlike Polish, like you I’ve found it incredibly beneficial to give myself something to look for. A few days ago I lost track of the main story and kept stumbling across a sentence I felt was particularly relevant and had a verb ending I kept seeing all the time. I read up on it and since then have been mentally marking it every time I cross it in my reading. I don’t take any more time or care reading those particular sentences, but since I had that one day where I spent 5 minutes looking at example sentences in translation, I’ve felt my comprehension greatly increase.

    When the mood strikes I’ll undoubtedly repeat this with a different pattern.

  2. I try not to be overly self-promoting but I really think this may help you with finding and listening to some simple text in Polish: http://rhinospike.com/language/pol/recordings/

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