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How to Pronounce Polish Words Part 1
By:Martin Cheslak

The Polish language is often considered one of the most difficult for non-native speakers to learn, and one of the reasons cited is the difficulty foreigners have in pronouncing Polish words and phrases.

However, this shouldn't have to be so. Polish is, after all, a very phonetic language, and almost every single word is pronounced exactly as it is written (there are a few exceptions, but not many).

The Polish alphabet is very similar to the English one, with only some extra accent marks and unique letters. However, some of the letters which are the same in both Polish and English are pronounced differently, and this can lead to confusion among English speakers learning Polish.

The 32 letters of the Polish alphabet, with both upper and lower case, are: Aa, Ąą, Bb, Cc, Ćć, Dd, Ee, Ęę, Ff, Gg, Hh, Ii, Jj, Kk, Ll, Łł, Mm, Nn, Ńń, Oo, Óó, Pp, Rr, Ss, Śś, Tt, Uu, Ww, Yy, Żż, Źź, Zz. Notice that Qq, Vv, and Xx are not present in the Polish alphabet (more information about this in the second part of the article).

There are quite a few more vowels in the Polish language than in English. The Polish vowels are: a, ą, e, ę, i, o, ó, u, y. There are also several digraphs (two or more letters pronounced as one sound) in Polish, some of which have very unique pronunciation.

Once you learn how to pronounce the 32 letters of the alphabet and the digraphs above, reading Polish will become very simple and straightforward (understanding what you're reading may take some more work, however). For the sake of simplicity, I've presented a table below with an explanation of all the letters and digraphs and their pronunciation.

A a The Polish "a" is a lot softer than the English "a" sound, and sounds a little higher than the "ahhh" sound you make at the doctor's office (there is no corresponding English sound; you should listen to a Polish speaker to learn it correctly)
Ą ą Sounds like the American English "ow" in the word "own" with a deep French accent (again, this is a uniquely Polish sound)
B b Pronounced exactly like the English "b"
C c Pronounced as the "ts" sound in English
Ć ć This letter is pronounced as the "ch" in the word "cheese". Beware: people will tell you that "ć" and "cz" are pronounced the same; any native speaker will tell you this is not true!
D d Pronounced just like the English "d"
E e Pronounced just like the American English "e" in the word "let"
Ę ę This sound is absolutely impossible for a foreigner to comprehend unless they hear it in person... it starts like the English "eh" and ends with an "wwww" sound with a thick French accent (please ask a Polish speaker to pronounce it for you to learn it correctly)
F f Pronounced just like the English "f"
G g Pronounced like the English "g" in the word "green"
H h Pronounced like the "h" in "hello"
I i Pronounced exactly like the American English "ee" in "bee"
J j Pronounced like the "y" in "yesterday"
K k Pronounced exactly like the English "k"
L l Pronounced just like the English "l"
Ł ł Pronounced exactly like the "w" in English
M m Pronounced just like the English "m"
N n Pronounced just like the English "n"
Ń ń Pronounced like an English "n" but with the mouth spread wider apart (like the Spanish letter "ñ")
O o Pronounced like the American English "o" in the word "more"
Óó Pronounced as "oo" like in the American English "cool"
P p Pronounced exactly like the English "p"
R r Is pronounced with a roll of the tongue and lips in a circle, sounding like an engine running... "rrrrr" (much like the Spanish "r")
S s Pronounced just like the English "s"
Ś ś Pronounced like the American English "sh" sound
T t Pronounced exactly like the English "t"
U u Is pronounced "oo," exactly the same as the Polish "ó" letter.
W w Pronounced like the English letter "v"
Y y Pronounced like the "i" in the American English word "dim"
Ż ż This sound is not present in English. It sounds like a combination of a rolled "r" and a "z"
Ź ź This sound is also not present in English or the Western European languages. It sounds like a "ż" with a higher pitch; it is sometimes incorrectly transliterated as "zh"... this does not reflect the actual translation.
Z z Pronounced just like the English "z"

Martin Cheslak

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