Top 10 Polish-English False Friends

18 września 2017, poniedziałek,

It is a very lucky set of circumstances when a word in a particular language is strikingly similar in a language that we happen to be learning.  This occurs very often with words that tend to be newer in their origins. For example, the word ‘computer’ sounds the same or is often the same word in many of the world’s languages. Even in very exotic languages. Concepts like ‘telephone’ and slightly more recent ‘download’ will often be the same in many different languages. These kinds of words are called cognates in language.  Interesting enough, the word ‘cognato’ means ‘brother-in-law’ in Italian. So these words are NOT cognates! Czytaj całość »


Top 5 grammar problems for polish learners

11 września 2017, poniedziałek,

English grammar can give Polish learners sleepless nights. And I know what I’m saying (well, writing). Being Polish myself I remember school times when I was taught that without grammar I wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively. So I spent hours doing dead-boring grammar exercises. And although I wholeheartedly agree with the opinion that without grammar very little can be conveyed but without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed, English grammar still deserves our attention.

© Mat Wright, British Council

So let’s have a look at top 5 grammar problems for Poles and some tips how they (problems) can be avoided. Czytaj całość »


Top 5 Pronunciation Problems for Polish Learners

4 września 2017, poniedziałek,

The degree of difficulty associated with acquiring great English pronunciation is largely relative to your first language i.e./ where you are already coming from linguistically. Some aspects of English pronunciation are universally difficult but every learner has different problems and approaches the language with a different set of ‘baggage’.  Consider, for example, that the sounds represented by English ‘f’ or ‘v’ do not exist in the Korean language and therefore words like ‘very, Friday, five and favourite’ tend to be particularly challenging.  These words are relatively easy for speakers of Slavic languages because the letters ‘f’ and ‘v’ not only exist but are quite ubiquitous letters.

© Mat Wright, British Council

Here are 5 problems that tend to be particularly difficult for Polish learners.

The Infamous ‘th’

The ‘th’ is a consonant digraph that generates a new mono-phonetic sound that is very often associated with or assimilated to ‘f’ in English. So many learners pronounce  three and free exactly the same. ‘Think’ becomes ‘fink’ etc.  However there is a striking difference between these two sounds. As all Poles can easily tell you the bottom lip is necessary to pronounce the elongated ‘f’ sound for example in the word ‘fasola’. If you don’t believe me, take your fingers and tug down on your bottom lip pulling it down and away from your teeth. Now try to say ‘fasola’. It cannot be done. However if I ask an English speaker to do the same thing and say the word ‘thirty-three’ it is absolutely no problem.  The bottom lip is unnecessary for the ‘th ‘sound as the tongue comes out slightly between the teeth to ‘replace’ the bottom lip.

Practise this lip pulling technique in front of a mirror. Don’t forget to wash your hands.

The Long  i:  vs I

Say these words out loud:





None of the words from the pairs sound alike. They are all quite different. The long /i:/ sound like Polish ‘igła’ is usually (not always) manifested in English with two letters together. ee, ea, ei, ie, e__e, oe. The sound is very easy and presents no problem for Polish learners.  The problem tends to come from having to remember the other side. The short, more frontal /ɪ/ sounds very much like the Polish ‘y’ sound. The Polish word ‘styl’ sounds practically identical to the English word ‘STILL’. The name Mitch sounds the same as the Polish verb ‘myć’.

SCHWA and weakened sounds

The long words ‘comfortable’ and ‘vegetable’ tend to become a bit enigmatic for Polish learners because most languages are very logical and have letters in words for a purpose.  English on the other hand behaves a bit illogically at times and seems to ignore letters while particular sounds become weakened for no apparent reason. There is a long historical linguistic explanation but that’s the topic of another blog.

Schwa / ə / is the most neutral open vowel sound in English. Imagine if you went to a dentist and had your entire mouth and tongue anaesthetized…you would only be able to produce one sound : schwa…roughly equating to written English – uh.

It is very common for unstressed words to become schwas. In the words banana, there are 3 syllables and the middle syllable is stressed therefore it keeps its long ‘a’ sound whereas the first and third a’s become schwas.

Hence: banana sounds like ‘buh  naa  nuh’ – /bə nɑ: nə/

Com For Tay Bul  becomes COM fuh tuh buhl – /kom fə tə bəl/

Rhotic ‘r’

The letter ‘r’ manifests itself in weird ways in language. Think about it – some languages trill it. (Spanish) Some languages make the ‘r’ sound very guttural (growling like French- RRRRien ) Some languages make it very retroflex (alveolar) pulling the tip of the tongue back to the roof of the mouth like some languages in India do. English does something very similar.

Try making the ‘w’ sound like in the word ‘where’. Say:  Wa  wa  wa wa  waaaaaaa

Now pretend you have peanut butter stuck to the top of your mouth and you want to lick it off with your tongue. Curl your tongue up and back but do NOT touch the roof of your mouth. Now while doing this try to say the same: wa wa wa waaaaaaa. What you should be producing is an approximation of the English rhotic ‘r’.

It is a notoriously difficult sound even for young English children.

Syllable Stress

Think about the sentence: ‘Mary bought a new computer.’

Imagine if someone misheard you and asked, ‚She bought a car?’

No. I said she bought a COMPUTER.”

Think for a moment about how you would say the sentence and in particular the word: computer.  Although the entire word is in bold it is really only one syllable you are stressing. Now…what did you say?;

She bought a COM pu ter – /KOM pju: tə/

She bought a com PU ter – /kom PJU: tə/

In everyday speech it is very important to consider which syllable gets the stress. DO you say Exam or do you say eXAM. Do you say 2 plus 2 eQUALS 4 or Equals 4?


I hope these 5 points have helped to raise your awareness of English pronunciation. What about your experiences with English? Do you feel there were some issues that are also important with regards to pronunciation?  Mention them below and perhaps we can write about them in future blogs.


Help your child learn English – Top 5 Tips

28 sierpnia 2017, poniedziałek,

It’s hard to imagine living in today’s world without being able to communicate in English, isn’t it? And a lot of parents wonder how they can support their child in learning English so that their little ones have a head start in life.  Although learning a new language can seem like a daunting[1] task, below you’ll find some fun, low-stress ways of encouraging your child to learn English.

© British Council

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Welcome to the Notting Hill carnival!

21 sierpnia 2017, poniedziałek,

Every year people from all over the world travel to London for the Notting Hill carnival. A feast[1] of fantastic music, color and spectacle make the festival what it is! People from all ethnic backgrounds enjoy themselves put their cares behind them and get on down to some serious partying! It’s the real sound of cool Britannia. So come to London and get on down![2] The clouds overhead might be grey but everyone is wearing a smile – including the policemen and women.

Published under CC BY-SA 4.0 license, source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Notting_Hill_Carnival_2014_(3).JPG

The carnival: How it all got started

Ever wondered how this fantastic festival got started? Well, actually fairs and festivals have a really long history in Britain going back hundreds of years! In fact British festivals were famous not just for their fun and dancing, but also for drunkenness and violence! One festival called the Bartholomew’s fair had to be banned[3] in 1865 because there was so much trouble! Of course nowadays, everyone is too busy having a great time to do anything like that!

Have you seen that fantastic film Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts? Today, people will pay a lot of money to live in Notting Hill, but sadly it wasn’t always like that. Many years ago, 1958 to be precise, there were actually race riots in the area where the film was shot[4]. A lot of people were hurt and many windows broken. It was so horrible that the people decided it must never happen again. So, the Notting Hill festival got started!

Notting Hill: A taste of Jamaica

The origins of the Notting hill carnival go back to the Caribbean Carnival first held in 1959. A hippie[5] festival from the London Free School got going around the same time so the two of them hit on a wonderful idea. Why not combine the two festivals to make one terrific festival that everyone could enjoy! This new festival made its debut in 1975 with steel-bands, reggae groups and sound systems! It hasn’t looked back since!

The carnival uses huge sound systems just like those in Jamaican dancehalls. So remember to take a pair of earplugs[6] with you. There are no physical boundaries or definite route for the festival but the general route is through Kensal Green with Westbourne park tube station as the starting point with the finish along Ladbroke Grove.  The carnival begins at 9 AM on Sunday and Monday and is of course free. What could be better?

Published under: CC BY-SA 2.0 license, source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Notting_Hill_Carnival_2005_006.jpg

Great music, great food!

Ever tried Jamaican food? Wow. You should its some of the tastiest grub in the world. The curried goat is a Jamaican delicacy. But be careful you might get fat so be sure to dance off those pounds. There is music to satisfy everyone’s taste; reggae, drum n bass, jungle, dubstep, ska[7] and deep bass blues! Brightly colored floats[8], dancers of all descriptions, and an important part of the event.

So, what are you waiting for? Book your ticket for this year’s festival and get on down to this year’s carnival and join a million other people in having the time of your life. What could be cooler than that?

[1] Feast – large, extravagant meal

[2] Get on down (informal) – dance in an exuberant manner

[3] Banned – not allowed

[4] Shot-(in this context) filmed

[5] Hippie- alternative culture, often synonymous with long hair and mysticism

[6] Earplugs – items inserted into the ears to prevent exposure to distasteful noise.

[7] Ska- reggae played at a fast tempo

[8] Floats- usually the backs of vehicles converted to carry party revellers