Published 21st February 2018

Learning English is not easy for any learner, no matter what their first language is. It takes hours and hours of exposure and practice to be able to speak English to any level of proficiency. There is added difficulty from a learner’s first language. Of course, if a learner’s first language is similar to the target language then this will help the learner – this is known as transfer. However, often aspects of the first language can lead to errors in producing English – this is known as interference.

For Polish learners of English there are certain differences between the two languages which can cause problems:

Grammar

Polish speakers can make mistakes when it comes to constructing conditional sentences, as a result of direct translation from Polish.

For example, If I will see him, I’ll tell him versus If I see him, I’ll tell him.

Polish speakers might not invert the word order in questions.

For example, How long you are in Poland? Versus How long have you been in Poland?

This brings us to our next problem. There are no perfect tenses in Polish, so Polish speakers will use the past simple or present simple instead of using the present perfect.

Polish does not have any articles, which means Polish speakers will often leave them out when speaking English.

Polish also does not have a contrast between countable and uncountable nouns. Consequently, Polish speakers may speak about advices, informations or furnitures.

Vocabulary

Surprisingly, there are quite a few words in Polish which are similar to English, but there are also quite a few which look and sound similar but which have different meanings. These are known as false friends. Common false friends which cause confusion are:

  • Ewentualnie means possibly, not eventually
  • Aktualny means current not actually
  • Fabryka means factory, not fabric
  • Sympatyczny means friendly, not sympathetic

Pronunciation

There are a few sounds which cause difficulties for Polish speakers in English. This is because these sounds don’t exist in Polish. These include:

  • /Ɵ/ as in Thursday
  • /ƞ/ as in sing
  • /r/ as in rubbish
  • /ɜ:/ as in girl

As you can see, learning English is not as straightforward as learning a new language. A learner will need to ignore the interference from their first language so as to avoid making these mistakes. As a teacher, you can help your learners by anticipating these problems and utilising exercises which can help your learners identify and overcome these errors.