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Language Matters

We were very keen to learn Polish at the beginning of this adventure.  For our own good, of course, but also out of respect to the country we have temporarily adopted.  And we have tried.  Really, we have.   But as it turns out, the lack of vowels in the Polish language is a big problem for us.  One of the suburbs in our area is called “Wrzeszcz”. I have tried to say it, but it always comes out with spit and a mumble.

Our local mall is called the Galeria Przymorze.   For our first 2 months here, we were pronouncing it “Preej-more” and thinking we were quite smart.  Then we learned that it’s actually pronounced “Shu-mor-jhay”.  Never would have guessed that.

The girls take Polish lessons at school and have quickly eclipsed us.   Jade actually helped me out the other day by telling me that the cashier was telling me to go to the next line over.

My own knowledge has unfortunately gotten to a somewhat awkward point: I can use basic words with a near-perfect Polish accent, but I can’t continue past that point.  This is troubling because the cashier (or server, or friendly stranger on the tram, or so on) seem to think that I am a native Pole and continues the conversation at a very fast pace that I cannot not keep up with, and I’m forced to resort to the “Nie rozumiem” (I don’t understand).   I either have to quickly increase my skills or Canadian-ize my accent.

Written form is somewhat easier because we can see the same words over and over – often with pictures (on food, for example).  We know that ser is cheese and chleb is bread and mleko is milk.   Still though, we continue to rely heavily on our Google Translate app.

This too, has its limitations.

I think this was one of my first attempts to translate a menu item:


They were either all out of hot dogs or all out of girls because they didn’t have that particular item that day.

It works the other way too. We can type English words and phrases and it gives us the Polish equivalent, even with a little microphone so we can hear how it sounds.   We were told that it could be useful in case one of our students tries to get us to say “young seal” in Polish:


And then there is the camera function that allows you to hold your phone up to any foreign-language type and it will translate it in front of your eyes.

Sometimes it works well, sometimes not.  It seems to need a simple font and a small amount of words.

Take this recent screenshot I took of my attempt to translate what kind of oil I was buying.





Now I might be the only person ever who did not know that Canola oil is otherwise known as Rapeseed Oil, but this was a shock.  I thought for sure it must be a system error.  But I bought it anyway and now have Polish Rape Oil in my cupboard.

I empathize deeply with my current and former international students whose minds must be overwhelmed each and every day.  But, like them, we will forge ahead, determined to make sense of the confusion of words and voices around us.


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  1. Natalie and the boys Natalie and the boys

    OMG…you have given me a hearty authentic belly laugh today! Maybe I will have more empathy for those learning English at home 🙂

  2. Jocelyn Jocelyn


  3. Dorothy Liehr Dorothy Liehr

    Yes, hilarious! You have to travel far and wide to try new things that you just ignore here. And the sheep reminded us of Alaska!
    Love following the blog and looking forward to some updates!
    Raymond and Eleanor are keeping track too and wondering what November was like. Having been to Greece, we recognize the photos posted on Facebook, but were wondering what Food and Animal adventures you have encountered!

    Safe adventuring!

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