Your native tongue or other linguistic skills you have has a big impact on how well you can deal with the pronunciation of the language you are learning. Languages that differ a lot from what you are used to tend to be more of a challenge. And pronunciation is not an exception from this. Here are 5 tips for Polish speakers to help you improve your German pronunciation.
by Jacqueline Grünberger
Geographically, Poland and Germany are neighbors, but the languages Polish and German could not be more different. Polish belongs to the West Slavic language family (remember: German is part of the West Germanic language group). Polish is thus closely related to Czech and Slovak. One thing the German and Polish languages have in common are consonant groups. These are strings of two or more consonants.
An example for Polish would be the consonant group prz [pʂ]* in the word przed ‘before’ and in German spr [ʃpʁ] as in the word Sprache [ʃpʁɑçə] ‘Język/language’. Where speakers of other languages break into a sweat, there is no problem for Polish speakers. Nevertheless, there are some pronunciation phenomena in German that do not exist in Polish. These can lead to difficulties in the learning process.
Tip #1: Vowel length
When we designed lessons for sylby, we also had these difficulties in mind. We created lessons in which, for example, the distinction between short and long vowels is not neglected, because in Polish there are only short ones. One of these lessons is entitled Skandal [skandaːl] ‘Skandal/scandal’ and, as you can already see here, the letter a appears twice in the word. The first a -sound is short [a] and the second is a long [aː]. You can go and try it yourself in our app!
Tip #2: The h-sound
Words with the [h]-sound, such as in the word Hund [hʊnt] ‘pies/dog’, cause difficulties for Polish speakers learning German. As it is either not heard or is realized as [x], the Ach-sound. In our app, we have several lessons for this sound to get your [h] straight in no time. If you want to improve this sound, go check out ou lesson “Haustiere”.
Tip #3: The Ich-sound
The Ich-sound [ç] known in German, such as in the word Milch [mɪlç] ‘Mleko/milk’, does not exist in Polish. However, there is a sound in Polish that comes quite close to the Ich-sound: [ɕ] as in środa ‘Wednesday’. It sounds like a mixture of the Ich-sound [ç] and the [ʃ] sound as in Schule [ʃuːlə] ‘Szkoła/school’, so this is pronounced instead of the Ich-sound in words like Milch by Polish-speaking learners of German. But don’t worry, you are not alone with this probem! We dedicated several lessons for this sound, such as “Sprachenlernen” or “Ich bin neu”.
Tip #4: A mix and match of vowels
Heute bereite ich einen Maissalat zu. (‘Dziś przygotuję sałatkę z kukurydzy/Today I’m going to prepare a corn salad.’) Notice anything about this sentence? That’s right, lots of diphthongs appear! Diphthongs are sounds consisting of two vowels (e.g. the diphthong ei [aɪ̯] in bereite: [bəʁaɪtə] ‘przygotowywać/to prepare’). These do not exist in Polish. Here each vowel is often pronounced separately. The example sentence appears in our lesson “Der Salat” and is a variegated salad consisting of all the diphthongs that German has to offer. This makes learning diphthongs even more fun!
Tip # 5: Melting consonants
A similar problem, but this time with a consonant, exists with words like Engel [ɛŋəl] ‘anioł/angel’, because the sound [ŋ] does not exist in Polish either. Learners tend to pronounce two sounds separately here, too, especially since they see the two letters ng. But don’t get confused by the spelling and just practice the sound [ŋ] with sylby, which is basically like a well-bred child of the [n] and the [g]: a good mixture of both!
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when developing a language learning app that caters to each individual pronunciation need, including yours! Every language and every person is different and that’s the beauty that leads to us having so much fun developing it. And now we hope Polish learners of German have just as much fun using it!
* In this article we use IPA-symbols. These are the symbols you also find in a dictionary that indicate how a word is pronounced. If you want to know more about it please read our article here or visit the International Phonetic Association.