Assimil Polish. Day 58

I’m now on Day 58 (or thereabouts) of the Assimil Polish course.

The Assimil courses consist of 100 lessons which are tackled in two waves: active and passive. The passive wave involves listening to the dialogs, reading the notes and becoming familiar with the translation and source language. The active wave consists of reproducing the dialogs – either in writing, aurally or both, starting from Lesson 1.

The active wave makes a lot of sense, as if you can reproduce these short dialogs, then you will be going some way to internalising some of the key grammatical language structures.

The active wave begins with Lesson 50, and so as well as studying lesson 50, you reproduce Lesson 1. The following day, when studying Lesson 51, you reproduce Lesson 2 and so on …

I’ve now been doing this (active and passive waves together) for eight days.

The initial lessons are quite short (although suddenly become longer and more complicated) and I haven’t had too much difficulty with writing them out so far, as well as saying them aloud.

However, I am unable do this and study a new Lesson, in thirty minutes, and I would say that an hour is more reasonable, and even that is probably not enough if you want to make rapid progress.

As you might guess, I’m now spending an hour a day to go through each new Assimil lesson (passive) and actively learn the corresponding earlier lesson (active).

If you are using Assimil, or thinking about doing so, do not expect to be able to complete each lesson in half an hour. I don’t think it is realistic unless you have studied another similar language, and I have never looked at a Slavonic language before.

Enough of the negative, after day 56, my overall view of Assimil is extremely positive, with a few caveats which I will write about when I’ve finished my initial run through of the course.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m still not chatting in Polish, and I don’t have a language partner. I suppose I still don’t feel it is productive in the sense that I can’t say enough to make it worthwhile. I like to chat. Soy un loro as they say in Spanish. Yeah. Fine. I can tell someone where I live, if it is raining and so on (in Polish), but that is not a conversation. I still don’t know enough Polish to have a conversation – in any real sense of the word.

I’ve spend an hour and a half chatting in Spanish today, but I like to talk about anything and everything. I don’t feel that intercambios at this point are a particularly helpful way for me to make faster progress in Polish. (I have reached the point in Italian, where I should speak more than once a week but I don’t have time).

At this point, faster means remaining focused on Assimil to be able to express myself (even badly) over a sufficiently wide enough range of topics that I can have a conversation. And I don’t mean ‘I live in … ‘, ‘I have a dog’!. Of course, the best way for passive knowledge to become active, is to use it, which in the case of speaking a language means of course to speak it!.



Polish Made Easy. Prepositions. Do and Na

Polish is choc full of prepositions.

Prepositions are words such as ‘at’, ‘to’, ‘in’ and so on. Do and na, are Polish prepositions and both used in the sense of to, as we do in English:

I am going to the shop.

There is only one version of to in English, and this doesn’t vary. So, ‘I go to the shop’ and ‘I go to the swimming pool’ both use the same preposition.

Polish uses a different preposition depending on the place to which you are going. This means that the first decision you must make is do I use na or do I use do?

Idę na basen ‘I go the swimming pool’.
Idę do domu ‘I go the house’.

Luckily, there is a rule to help you remember this, although with exceptions that we will come to later.

Big open places tend to use na. Small places tend to use do.

So, if you are going to a shop (a small place) the preposition do will be used.

Idę do sklepu ‘I go to the shop’.

So, if you are going to an airport (a big place) the preposition na will be used.

Idę na lotnisko ‘I go to the airport’.


There are of course exceptions. For example, poczta post office (not really big) uses the preposition na. But they are easy to remember if you associate the place with somewhere you know of, or have been frequently. Whenever you think of poczta, think of the largest post office that you have ever been too.

After a while na will stick. After all, post-offices are really huge aren’t they.


You can’t escape from cases if you want to speak Polish. Each preposition uses a special case, and the noun that follows the preposition must be put into the required case.

OK. Let’s start with the easier of these two prepositions.

Na + acc = to

Na uses the accusative case

The Accusative Case

Now the accusative case for inanimate objects, and this naturally includes buildings, swimming pools .. for masculine and neuter nouns is identical to the nominative.

The nominative case (the dictionary form) is the form of the word you find in the dictionary. It is the form that you learn. It is the form without any changes being made to the ending.

So, basen in the nominative and basen in the accusative are the same! Easy.

This leaves feminine nouns. In Polish, these mainly end in a. Change the a to ę and you have the accusative.

So, poczta in the nominative becomes pocztę in the accusative.

There are exceptions, but Polish Made Easy is about trying to be 90% grammatically correct with a few simple rules. The next 10 percent requires time, talking, practice and grammar books.

Once you know that you need to use the preposition na with a word. You are as we say ‘sorted’.

Idę na uniwersytet. Idę na basen. Idę na lotnisko.

Now, let us move on to do, which requires the genitive.

Do + gen = to

The Genitive Case

I will look at the genitive properly later, but for now do the following which covers many feminine and neuter words:-

If a words ends with an a in the nominative, change the a to a y.

If a words ends with an o in the nominative, change the o to an a.

Otherwise add a u to the nominative or dictionary form.

I’d like to explain the logic I’ve used here …

… for anyone who knows how the Polish genitve works, or who is interested in why this will give you a correct ending in 80 percent of the time. BTW 80 percent is a guess, it could be 50 percent or 90 percent. I have no idea. But when you are starting, this is more than you would achieve otherwise. Honestly, some of the grammar rules are so arcane it freaks me.

There are spelling rules in Polish which prevent a y from following a k or g. So the genitive of Polska is Polski and not Polsky, but essentially (to us English) they have the same sound. If you are speaking, no-one is going to know whether you mentally spell the word with a y or i.

Masculine words ending in a consonant, either have u or a added to the end, and you have to learn this! However, many ‘masculine’ common places that you are going to go to such as the park or pub, take u in the genitive.

Yes, there are also a lot of exceptions, but this is just to get you started!



Polish Made Easy. An Introduction

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I have been learning Polish this year and my progress has been slow. Polish is a complicated language with a complicated grammar, that you need to get to grips with to talk without sounding like

a total numpty or complete muppet.

For the non-native English speakers among you the words ‘numpty’ and ‘muppet’ can be used to describe someone who is doing something rather badly.

It is fine to talk like a numpty, and that is how we all start, but you don’t want to do it for ever.

Grammar is considered by many to be pointless, boring, unhelpful and not to be emphasised. It is not fashionable to talk about it. Grammar is like an embarrassing relative (and I have a few). They are there, but no-one really wants to talk about them too much. And if they do, it is in hushed whispers, on dark nights, around dying embers etc.

For a language such as Polish (and I imagine all the slavic languages), grammar is

very important!

Without learning grammar, you can not construct accurate sentences.

Spanish or Italian (for example) are more forgiving, and I think it is possible to absorb the grammar for these languages without forcing it.

So this brings up a dilemma.

Grammar books tend to overcomplicate, with exceptions that can only be learnt by practice and exposure to the language, and but yet contain too much information. And yet, it is important to learn enough grammar so that you can understand how to make (largely) correct sentences, and to provide a solid foundation to speed up learning.

What I have decided to do, partly to help with my own understanding of Polish, is to write a series of Blog posts on this topic called Polish Made Easy.

These will illustrate the most essential chunks of Polish grammar, along with ways to remember them.

As I understand them!

Everyone’s an expert. And that includes me.




Coming soon … ! Probably …?

A new language course is almost ready to be added to Surface Languages!

The first part  French language course is almost complete. I’ve not linked it into the main French page as it isn’t finished, but you can see the contents.

As yet, there is no audio!. This will arrive soon, and so I hope by the end of next week another course will be finished.

Spread the word. Tell the cool kids!

I don’t know any cool kids, as I’m kind of a geek. But if I did I’d tell them, so that they could get into some language learning goodness.

Of course, the exact time-scale depends a bit what else is going on in my life.

As a part-time language learner, and webmaster real life often intrudes. I recently  mentioned that I had had to replace a tap – which is a simple example of the kind of things that take up  my free time.

But I now find myself wondering what I will add next to SurfaceLanguages?




Slow language learning


Slow language learning? You mean that it is possible to learn a language slowly?

Certain ideas spread through the internet like an epidemic.  In the language learning world, this particular idea is that it possible to learn a language fast and well over a period of weeks.

I don’t think it is helpful. If anything it is discouraging especially when you are starting.

The fundamental idea is that if you are confident enough to speak, and know a handful of words  you can overcome any other difficulties through context and using your few words imaginatively.

No-one seems to challenge this world view.

The biggest (and never spoken of ) issue with this is …


It takes time to understand native speakers talking at a normal rate. Spanish is often used as an example of an easy language. People claim to learn it in eight weeks or whatever.

Well, I didn’t.

Sure, you can learn to put basic sentences together, but you will not understand the replies.

Yes, you can guess a bit from context both from the conversation you are having and where you are. And yes, people are  often helpful and will try and explain and maybe slow down.

But comprehension takes time, which is maybe why it  is never mentioned in the ‘it is easy to learn’ scenario. It takes time and listening before you can understand normal speech. It is much easier to speak than understand.

Of course, it is possible to speak immediately (although not necessarily correctly). Learning to put basic sentences together in another language isn’t hard. (It may be complicated for some languages, but it isn’t difficult to say something).

I could say ‘dog over there’ instead of ‘the dog is over there’  and be understood.

But comprehension takes time once you move away from the simplest of interactions. 


there is another way!

Don’t rush. Accept that it takes time to become good at something. Enjoy the journey.


that if you are spending 30 minutes a day that your progress will be slow.



Assimil Polish. Day 35

I’ve now being using Assmil Polish for 35 days, so I’m just over a third of the way through the 100 lessons.

The idea is that around half an hour is sufficient for each lesson, and after 100 days you can reach a level of between A2 and B1 on the CEFR scale.

Half an hour a day. Are they serious?

Well, I don’t know if I am particularly slow at language learning, but somewhere after Lesson 20 the lessons increase rapidly in complexity, and I’ve found that 30 minutes is not enough. In fact, it is not remotely enough.

Nevertheless, I’m not spending any longer than this for two reasons.

Firstly, I’m following the instructions as I don’t want to surcharger ma mémoire ‘overload my memory’, as explained in the intro. Who knows what damage that might do? A memory overload? It doesn’t sound pleasant.

Secondly, I don’t have more than half an hour. I’ve got other things to do like Fix taps. Etc.

What level can I (or you) reach?

I don’t know yet, but I imagine it will should be somewhere in the A2 range.

As I’ve discovered with Italian the difference between a weak A2 (almost A1) and a strong A2 (almost B1) is absolutely huge, so this category is not particularly enlightening.

Do you think the Assimil course is good?

In a word. Yes. When, I’ve finished I’ll write about my experience in more detail.

You Fix Taps. Really?

Yes. Although it would be more accurate to say that I’ve now fixed/replaced one tap. Ever. At this rate I’d need to live another 500 years to have replace ten.

I replaced our kitchen tap which had been dripping for months, thus saving the absolutely gigantic sum any self-respecting plumber would have charged us.

According to my wife, who knows about these things, I was stressed and irritable, while fixing said tap. In fact, she said muttered something like ‘if I’d known what a song and dance you would have made of it …’ . And so on. I focused on the job in hand rather than catching the end of the sentence.

Still, one sudden move and our kitchen would have been knee deep in water. Everything was hanging in the balance. Who wouldn’t be stressed? 

And that folks is life in the fast lane.



Articles written for SEO purposes only

I don’t normally look at the type of search phrases that bring people to Surface Languages but this morning (as it is the first of the month) I had a look.

So, I had a look at some of the searches used,and one was ‘free language learning’.

Naturally, I typed this into Google to see where Surface Languages ranked. Somewhere on the first page is the answer, with the BBC languages being firmly in pole position.

It also revealed articles written for SEO or link purposes only. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation the gist of which is to try and increase the number of visitors to a website through various means.

One is to increase the number of other sites that link into your site. This moves the site up the rankings for relevant searches within the search engines and so increases the number of visitors to your site.

So, for example, if Surface Languages had 5000 links (I wish) and you typed in ‘language learning‘ there would be a strong possibility that it would rank first.  As it doesn’t, you won’t find this website using that key phrase. I doubt whether it is within the first 30 pages!

The downside of this is that many, many articles are written solely for the purpose of gaining links, either for the authors site or perhaps a a website they are being paid to promote.

You can spot these articles easily. They contain generalisations, cliches, no useful research, no useful information and can be written extremely fast.

Unfortunately, if they are on pages that are themselves on *authority* sites (maybe like some of the big newspapers), they will rank extremely highly for the targeted phrases.

The internet is increasingly cluttered with these *informative articles*,  so when you are genuinely looking for information, you have to sift through articles written solely with the idea of SEO and not intending to inform.

Look for titles such as The ten easiest languages to learn if you want to example of  articles like this.

I don’t particularly advise this.

The other way of increasingly a websites popularity, is too make a it sufficiently useful that people want to use it and to tell their friends:).

This is what I’m attempting to do here.