As an English lecturer at Polish universities for over a decade, I learned a lot about how Poles come into contact with the English language and the various reasons why they want to learn it.
Since every language has its own baggage, there are certain traps Poles fall into when using English. In fact, on the first day of class, I’d often tell my students (usually intermediate to upper-intermediate) that I already knew the mistakes they were going to make and then proceeded to list them. I did this so that my students would stop being so hard on themselves when it came to certain mistakes.
With that said, here are 8 mistakes Polish people make when writing in English based on what I’ve seen as both a lecturer and an English language editor. Let’s do this!
Incorrect use of articles
This is, hands down, the most common mistake. The Polish language does not have articles, so it can be difficult for Poles to master the correct use of a, an, and the in English. This leads to sentences that sound awkward and sometimes unclear.
Whether I’m reviewing the work of a beginning student of English or editing an article written by a Polish professor who has been speaking English for decades, this is the most consistent issue I deal with as an editor.
Misuse of preposition
There are prepositions in Polish but they don’t translate perfectly into English, leading to Poles often using them incorrectly. For example, they may say “I am on a meeting” instead of “I am in a meeting.”
This isn’t an end-of-the-world problem by any means, but it’s noticeable in conversations and can often lead to humorous results.
Confusion between singular and plural
In Polish, there is no distinction between singular and plural forms of nouns, so Poles may forget to add an “s” to pluralize English nouns.
Funnily enough, the problem is reversed when it comes to English speakers using Polish, where we add an “s” to words where it doesn’t below. The word “pierogi” is already plural, so you can literally see a Polish person cringe when someone says, “I’m in the mood for pierogies!”
Incorrect use of phrasal verbs
Phrasal verbs, which are ridiculously common in English (something I didn’t notice until I started teaching), can be difficult for Poles to master. They may use the wrong preposition or forget to separate the verb and particle. The latter leads to confusing moments, but the former can lead to embarrassing situations.
I’ll forever be haunted by one particular student who used the verb “down” as he was trying to explain to the class about long he had been “going out” with his girlfriend.
The word “you” in Polish (Cie/Ciebie) is always capitalized and so they often do the same when writing in English. “I’m writing You today because…” wouldn’t be uncommon to see if there was an assignment about writing an email.
To help clarify this issue, I’d tell my students that we never capitalize “you” (unless it’s the first word in a sentence, of course) because “The word you is not important, whereas I am important, so I is always capitalized.” Hopefully, they got the joke. 😉
Not capitalizing Polish
Unlike in English, nationalities are not capitalized. And normally this isn’t a big deal, especially when compared to more serious atrocities like global warming or TV shows like Emily in Paris, but it does pose a unique issue for Poles.
As English speakers will recognize, Polish – when not capitalized – becomes a different word entirely. And while you could make a metaphysical argument that, yes, all of us are in some way polish – I’m certain that is not what the student meant to write.
Literal translations of Polish idioms
Idioms are often unique to a particular language and direct translations can sound strange in another language. Polish is no exception.
And while the Polish language has some AMAZING idioms (“Thinking of blue almonds” = “Myśleć o niebieskich migdałach” or my personal favorite: “Not my circus, not my monkeys = “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy”), when used without proper context, these directly translated idioms can make you sound like someone having a stroke.
Lack of proofreading
Finally, Poles may not always take the time to proofread their writing, leading to errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And yes, I know, you could say this about any nationality.
But this is my article and my attempt to appease the SEO gods, so I’m going to point my finger at the Poles for now!
These are just a few of the common mistakes that Poles make when writing and speaking in English. However, with practice and attention to detail, Poles can improve their English writing skills and communicate more effectively.
But worry not! There are people like me who are here to make sure your English writing is correct and reads well. As an English proofreader in Poland, I am here to help!