There is an internet meme regarding language learning, and is states ‘all languages are equally easy to learn’ with the inference that they all take a similar amount of time.
My experience of learning Polish for the last 18 months shows sme this isn’t true. Polish is not impossible, but it is more difficult to learn than Spanish for this english speaker. It is useful to know this and not be discouraged by slow progress.
What I am writing here is based on my experiences so far of learning Polish. I’ve been learning Polish for the last year and a bit, and spend exactly 30 minutes a day on the language. I freely admit that is not enough for fast progress, but I am talking relatively here.
I’m not fluent in many languages. I’m not a polyglot. I have no special gift or technique. (I’m not even selling anything). I can’t move to a country and magically speak the language by osmosis or having a few conversations at a bus top and so on.
So, I’m Mr language learning average. I am ‘the man on the clapham omnibus‘ as a wise man once remarked. In other words. ‘a reasonably educated and intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured.’ As can be inferred from the word defendant, this description came from a legal judgement, but it seems appropriate (although I’m not too keen on nondescript).
I’m going to show why Polish is more difficult than Spanish (for an English speaker) with an example.
I am at the pool with friends. (I’m not but this is my example. Clever huh!).
Firstly, we have the Spanish version, which is Estoy en la piscina con amigos followed by the same version in Polish Jestem na basenie z przyjaciółmi.
The Polish version is more complicated because of the grammar needed to construct the sentence.
To construct this sentence in Polish you must deal with:
Jestem ‘I am’. In fact this is from of the easiest verbs in Polish. Irregular of course, and different depending on whether you are a man or woman in the past tense. But I digress.
The preposition na followed by the locative case means ‘at’. You also need to know whether to use w (e.g. Jestem w domu) or na as this depends where you are ‘at’ – as it were. You also must remember to use the locative case, as na has a different meaning when followed by the accusative.
The Locative case. In brief the Polish word for swimming pool is Basen but when talking about ‘where’ something is located the locative case is used. You also need to know the appropriate ending for the noun in the locative which appears to be almost random. Actually there are rules but it seems easier to gradually learn the various locatives in situ.
The preposition z which has the meaning of ‘with’ or ‘from’ depending on whether the noun that follows is in the genitive or instrumental. This sentence requires ‘with’ and so the Instrumental case is needed.
The instrumental case. The word for friend is przyjaciel (I think – I wrote this from memory so errors are probable). The genitive plural of przyjaciel is przyjaciółmi (I’m fairly sure but not positive).
Now the Spanish version.
Estoy. Actually one of the more tricky areas of Spanish. You have to choose between one of two verbs to use when saying ‘to be’ ser and ester. Anyway ‘Estoy‘ means ‘I am’.
En means in. You don’t need to worry about cases and the like as Spanish doesn’t have them. Nor does English.
La piscina means ‘the pool’. Spanish nouns have a gender but almost all nouns ending with a are feminine so they are not particularly difficult to learn, and crucially there is not normally a big impact on the construction of the sentence.
So if I wanted to talk about ‘the pools’ I would just add an s on the end las piscinas. See. Easy. That pretty much sums up plurals in Spanish. Just add an s. The plural of Polish nouns are more complicated with a lot of irregular nouns to remember. So Polish wins here in terms of difficulty – certainly if you have a memory like mine.
Con is a preposition meaning with. Again nouns do not change just because they happen to follow it.
Amigo means friend and we add an s on the end to make friends. As an aside the Polish plural of friends przyjaciele and if your friend happens to be female it is something else again. In Spanish if your friend is female, just change the o to a resulting in amiga.
And so we have two sentences.
I leave it to you to judge which is easier.
Of course, I’m making a point here, and that is don’t expect to find Polish easy. I don’t think Spanish is easy either, but there is a lower barrier to entry certainly at the beginning. It is MUCH easier to construct simple sentences in Spanish than in Polish and have a chance of being correct.
I don’t know if Polish suddenly becomes more straight-forward later in the game, as I’m not there yet. I kind of hope so.