When asked to name some famous Poles, most of my students list the most obvious
names: Pope John Paul II, Lech Wałęsa, Roman Polanski or Henryk Górecki. Few mention Joseph Conrad, Marie Curie or Frederic Chopin who were all Poles. Even fewer know that Poles were pioneers of the oil industry, constructed the periscope, made the first maps of the Moon, discovered vitamins and a successful cancer treatment, were the first to enshrine religious tolerance into law and one of the first to have public libraries.
The post war history of Poland has been marked by life under Communism which in its wake, left a shattered economy, lack of infrastructure, wide spread material poverty and a sense of despair. But Communism was just one episode in the long and often tragic Polish history. In its golden age in 16th and 17th Century when Poland formed a Commonwealth with Lithuania, the Kingdom was the largest and one of the most powerful in Europe with borders stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But the 18th Century brought misfortune, and since then Poles have had to endure numerous wars, invasions, partitions (when Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for over 120 years), uprisings, two world wars and 45 years of Communism which has made them just about the most resilient nation in Europe. World War II in particular brought unimaginable human, social, cultural and material destruction. Approximately 6 million Poles died during the war; almost the entire middle class was wiped out leaving the country without doctors, teachers, university lecturers, lawyers, artists, engineers, scientists and clergy. Most of the cities laid in ruins and the countryside was scarred with armies marching back and forth. The country was robbed of most of the precious works of art which were taken away never to be returned, and yet, against all the odds, the country and the nation survived. It’s no surprise that when visiting Poland one has a great sense of history and drama. In spite of this past, Poland today is a vibrant country which, while trying to re-connect with its history, is also firmly looking forward to the future.
The many misconceptions about Poland and Poles are only matched by the misconceptions about the Polish language. Its notorious reputation for extremely difficult grammar and even more difficult pronunciation puts many learners off, and yet things are not as they seem. Although Polish may look and sound complicated to the uninitiated, once you’ve grasped a few basic rules it is not as daunting as you may think, as Polish pronunciation is very consistent. In fact, it is easy to forget that Polish and English share many similarities. Both languages have been heavily influenced by Latin and Greek so many Polish words such as: matematyka, gramatyka, muzyka, muzeum, medycyna, historia, polityka will be easily recognised by English speakers. Polish has also borrowed many words from other languages including English, so again words like: telefon, radio, telewizja, komputer, golf, jazz, hobby, snob, autobus, mapa, plan, dokument, numer, policja, restauracja will be familiar.
Whether you are a complete beginner or you need to brush up on your basic Polish, I hope this site will offer you a user-friendly and accessible way to study Poland and Polish.