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.

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 :

Pięćdziesiąt

Sześćdziesiąt

Dziewięćdziesiąt

Much easier!