Why you should learn to pronounce new words backwards

Today, I have a tip which I’ve found has worked for me for a while, but I’ve been trying to figure out WHY it works before I posted something.

At its core, it’s very simple.  You find a new word in Polish and it’s full of complex sound clusters & you inevitably stumble over it syllable at a time and wonder how badly you’re mangling the Polish language when you’re done.  Been there, done that a few hundred times..

Let’s start with an example which you may or may not find a challenge, but it helps me illustrate the point.

Your new word is Szczęsnowicz.  Don’t worry – if you find that one too obvious, just bear with me for the sake of the example!

So, if you do it the obvious way, you’ll start by saying something like:

Sz…  Szcz… Szczęs… Szczęsnow… Szczęsnowicz..

Success!!  🙂

Now compare what you’re saying to this native pronunciation : Szczęsnowicz

Go ahead and click that link and play it a few times… I’ll wait..

Ok, so if you’re anything like me then you’ll find you were emphasizing entirely the wrong syllable.  Listen again and you’ll notice that the emphasis is here : SzczęsNOWicz.

Now the Polish language is full of wonderful complexities, so I like to celebrate a common rule when I come across one, just to remind myself that fluency is achievable one day.  The rule with Polish spoken language is that the emphasis is always on the penultimate (next to last) syllable in the word.  

I’ll say that again because it’s a really important point and I finally realized that this was the cornerstone of why learning new complex words backwards was a great idea.

The rule with Polish spoken language is that the emphasis is always on the penultimate (next to last) syllable in the word.

So let’s go back to the way you’ve been stumbling through vocalizing new words :

Sz…  Szcz… Szczęs… Szczęsnow… Szczęsnowicz..

Because you’re focusing on the syllables as they rush up to meet you – you’re not going to spot the fact that you’ve reached the penultimate one.  Sure, you’ve reached the end and you’ve finally managed to say Szczęsnowicz, but if you’re anything like me, you’re probably emphasizing the częs part.

Instead of this let’s work backwards syllable by syllable :

icz… NOWicz… częsNOWicz… szczęsNOWicz..

Success!  Because it was the 2nd syllable you encountered, you can immediately start emphasizing it right and then hang on to that emphasis as you add successive syllables to your pronunciation.

Dog barking? Shhhh.. Wait!!

Sometimes I have a total mental block on a certain word.  While I’m on Skype with my teacher, my dog has a habit of wanting to join in the conversation.  As a result, I must have asked her the word for “bark” a dozen times in the past year and I was still failing to remember it.

Looking back through my notepad, I’ve written it down 8 times at least that I can quickly see.  It sticks in my head as a word with “sz” and “k” in it, but the rest just fades, yet today for the 1st time I noticed something obvious and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it again.

It comes right back to my usual mechanism for remembering words, which is anchoring some aspect of them to another word or image and it reinforces for me just how important it is to hold that web of connections.  This is a word, I’d just been keeping in isolation in my head.  I hadn’t really looked at it and made the effort to decompose the word or link it.

So, the word in question is Szczekać (to bark).  Take a second to sound that out a couple of times..  It’s just a series of shh and k sounds, which is where I fell down.  There’s a lot of other shh and k words in my head already & I didn’t make the effort to figure out how this one was special.  As a result, when I was searching my brain for it,  I kept coming up with words like skręcić (to turn) or skakać (to jump).  Similar sounds at some level, but totally unconnected words.

But today when I skimmed my word list for revision, this leaped out at me :

Szczekać = Sz  czekać

Czekać is a word I’ve known for ages.  It means to wait.

So now, when my dog is barking and being impatient, I’ll just tell him “Shhhh!  Wait!”


Similar words – Świat

Continuing my theme of clusters of words which are very similar in Polish, which I’ve struggled to get right, here’s another batch which have been plaguing me for a while.

Maybe it’s just my desire to see patterns, but if you think of a general theme where light and spirituality are thought of together and the world is a sacred place, then perhaps there’s a common origin for them.  At least that helps me remember them!

Świat – The world

Światło – Light (n)

Świeca – Candle

Świecić – To shine (v)

Świeży – Fresh (adj)

Święto – Holiday

Święty – Holy (adj)

Świetny – Excellent (adj)

Świetnie – Excellently (adv)

And similar enough to have confused me recently when I heard it :

Śmieci – Rubbish / Garbage (n)

Śmieciarka – Garbage truck

Kosz na śmieci – Rubbish bin

Similar words – Cześć

Today I was listening to a polish radio interview & doing my best to keep up with the general gist of the report.  My listening comprehension isn’t yet to the level where I can understand even half of what is being said by a native speaker, but I usually understand enough of the words to know roughly what they’re talking about – even if I don’t know what they’re saying about it..

I came away today rather confused though because no matter how many times I played it back, I couldn’t figure out what they were saying in one section and it all came down to a series of words which (to me) sounded practically the same.  So the idea for a new post was born.

Similar words or podobne słowa.

Today – ones which (to me) all sound a bit too close to Cześć to easily differentiate when I hear them spoken quickly in a sentence!  I decided it would be useful for me to write them all down in one place so I can see them together and hopefully learn to tell them apart better (each word is clickable to hear the pronunciation)

Cześć – Hi

Część – Part

Często – Often

Czeski – Czech

Czysty – Clean (adj)

Czynsz – Rent (noun)

Ciężki – Heavy

Cieszę się – To be pleased with


How to add Polish to your iPhone/iPad keyboard

Similar to my earlier post on How to type Polish letters in Windows 10 on your English keyboard, a quick post on how to add Polish to your keyboard on an iPhone/iPad.  It’s very simple and will take you 30 seconds & won’t affect your normal English keyboard at all.

You don’t actually need to do this to type Polish characters, but if you don’t then the auto-correct will keep “fixing” your polish or at least underlining every Polish word as a mistake.

First you need to open up your Settings :


Then scroll down to find General :



Scroll down again to find Keyboard :



Select Keyboards at the top :



Add New Keyboard :



Find Polish in the list and select it.  You’re half way there!

Now go back a couple of menus until you’re on the General page again, and this time select Language & Region.



Choose to Add Language & then find and select Polish (Polski) from the list.



That’s it, you’re done!

Now on your keyboard in whatever application you’re using, there will be a button at the bottom left which lets you swap keyboard languages & auto-correct will be appropriate for whatever language your keyboard is in!


Keyboard in English with language button highlighted


Once you press that language button you will see this instead :


Keyboard in Polish with auto-correction marks gone


When you want to type the special Polish letters like ż, ź, ę, ą, ł, etc, you simply hold down the English letter until the popup menu appears and choose the one you want:


Hold down English letter to offer Polish letters


That’s all there is to it.  You’ll now get Polish auto-corrections/suggestions in your texts & emails when your keyboard is in Polish.

As an added bonus, if you have Dictation switched on (which it is by default), then when your keyboard is in Polish and you press the Microphone symbol (next to the space bar), speak Polish into it and it’ll recognise (hopefully) your Polish and dictate for you in Polish rather than English!


Pronouncing numbers – tip

A quick tip today on how some of the polish numbers are usually pronounced.  This one is direct from my teacher and made a huge difference to the stuttering noises coming out of my mouth when trying to say these words.

The cluster of letters is …ćdz…  You see it in the following numbers :

Pięćdziesiąt (15)

Sześćdziesiąt (16)

Dziewięćdziesiąt (19)

When you try to say these as they’re written, you end up trying to quickly change your mouth from saying CH to DZ.  In Polish however, the ć ends up being silent in these words.

Try saying them again like this :




Much easier!

Common words with 1, 2-4 & 5+

I’ve mentioned in a previous post How many summers do you have? that there is some magic polish grammar that changes when you’re talking about 1 thing, 2-4 things or 5+ things.  It then repeats for 21, 22-24, 25+ then 31, 32-34, 35+ etc.  Though for the sake of completion, I’ll note here that teens (11,12,13,14,15+) all follow the 5+ pattern, so just be aware of that.

Today I thought I’d share some more case of common words which change in the same way.  I’m going to skip going into which case these come from & why today, so just worry about a few new words to learn and when to use them.

(Thanks to Marta, my great polish teacher on skype for helping my get my head around these better in today’s lesson – although any mistakes are purely my own! )

Tysiąc (thousand)

# word example
1 tysiąc tysiąc
2-4 tysiące dwa tysiące
5+ tysięcy pięć tysięcy

Milion (million)

# word example
1 milion jeden milion
2-4 miliony dwa miliony
5+ milionów pięć milionów

Rok (year)

# word example
1 rok jeden rok
2-4 lata dwa lata
5+ lat pięć lat

Godzina (hour)

# word example
1 godzina jedna godzina
2-4 godziny dwie godziny
5+ godzin pięć godzin

Minuta (minute)

# word example
1 minuta jedna minuta
2-4 minuty dwie minuty
5+ minut pięć minut

There are also similar patterns in the basic number words, but it’s not quite as simple to write, so I’ll list them below and highlight, which hopefully will make sense to you with a few examples :

10 – dziesięć

20 – dwadzieścia

30 – trzydziesći

40 – czterdzieści

50 – pięćdzieściąt

60-90  – ……dzieściąt

And the 100’s

100 – sto

200 – dwieście

300 – trzysta

400 – czterysta

500 – pięćset

600-900 – ……set