7 things to watch out for when teaching English to Polish students

Whether it’s the majestic Gothic spires and cobbled streets of Krakow or the buzzing cityscape of modern Warsaw that’s drawn you to Poland, this huge cut-out of Central-Eastern Europe is one of the perennial favorites for TEFL teachers heading to the continent. Some words of warning for the grammar wary, though: Polish is considered one of the most complex languages on the globe, meaning there might just be one or two things to watch out for when it comes to teaching English to Polish students…

 

teaching English to Polish students
Gdansk | © Dan/Flickr

 

Syntax errors

 

Polish isn’t like English when it comes to syntax. While the typical word orders still follow the classic subject-verb-object course that many a European language does, you also have to factor in that there’s no hard and fast rule about it in your students’ native tongue. Just be prepared to go over adjective patterns, sentence construction, and all the other syntax-related topics when teaching English to Polish students.

 

teaching English to Polish students
Warsaw | © Juan Antonio Segal/Flickr

 

Tense confusions

 

Anyone who’s completed their 120-hour TEFL cert will know just how complex English tenses can be. Well, for Polish students it can be doubly so. That’s because their native lingo doesn’t have anything near the same sort of system for distinguishing past from present from future. In short, Polish speakers will usually look to the infinitive version of the verb to do all the work for them. In their language, it will simply change endings depending on whether it’s imperfect, perfect; with one version denoting the past tense, and the other present and future versions. The introduction of extra words to communicate tenses – “I HAVE BEEN eating”, “I WILL HAVE BEEN eating” –  in English can often be a tad tricky.

 

Genders

 

Genders might not be something you’re used to dealing with as a native English speaker (except for those simple ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’s, of course). For Poles, and for speakers of a great many European languages besides (we’re looking at you German: Der, die, das), they are a day-to-day occurrence. It’s basically something you’re going to have to direct your students away from when it comes to teaching grammar, because it’s likely they’re going to naturally worry where those masculine, feminine, and neuter distinctions have disappeared to in their target language.

Okay, now let’s get technical…

 

teaching English to Polish students
A street scene in Krakow | © LiveKrakow/LiveKrakow

 

Cases

 

Polish trumps the three simple cases in English by offering a spread of no less than seven! In essence, that means the language comes with a much more prescribed way of saying things. Whereas English speakers can simply denote possession, objects of a sentence, and subjects of a sentence, Polish speakers can do everything from signal occupation to location, just by changing the nature of the nouns they use. And if all that sounds too complicated to keep up with, the upshot here is that our native lingo doesn’t need you to alter the endings of most words you use as you speak – just be sure to point that out when teaching English to Polish students; they’re likely to be relieved!

 

Subject-verb—adjective noun agreement

 

Leading on nicely from the last point is one deeper implication of cases. Your Polish students won’t only be used to changing the nouns of their sentences to denote up to seven different aspects of meaning – location, occupation, subject, object, etc – but will also lean towards altering the pronouns and adjectives that come before and after the verb.

 

This is especially true of complex sentences (ie. “I like my sister’s new dog’s toy” – where all those intricate pronouns, adjectives, possessives, and other parts of speech will change at each step). Don’t worry if you’re not following the Slavic side of things, the real point here is that you’ll need to stress there’s no need to start conjugating words left, right, and center when teaching English to Polish students. That’s all.

 

teaching English to Polish students
The palace of culture – Warsaw, Poland – Travel photography | © Giuseppe Milo/Flickr

 

Told you we were getting technical.

 

Let’s tone it down a tad…

 

Some cultural no-nos

 

A more general point to remember when teaching English to Polish students is that you’re working in one of the most traditional countries in Central-Eastern Europe. There’s still a tentative respect for religion across the nation – it’s said Poland is one of the most staunchly Catholic places on the globe. Many of the attitudes are strongly conservative. Many schools prefer not to stray from the straight and narrow path of learning. So, just be wary of your surroundings, always plan your lessons in adherence with cultural norms, and check with your head of studies if you’re ever uncertain about something.

 

teaching English to Polish students
A church in the Polish Tatras | © Ski Eastern/Ski Eastern

 

They might already have great English

 

The rise of English speaking in Poland, as in much of Eastern Europe in the last couple of decades, has been nothing short of phenomenal. There’s a huge age divide, between an older group of Poles who still struggle with English, and the youth, to whom English speaking seems to come naturally. That’s not to say you’re going to be out of a job anytime soon. On the contrary, the need for teachers to push learners through European lingo exams has never been higher, and ironing out all the kinks (some outlined above), to get those students speaking like a native, means conversational sessions are in hefty demand.  

 


 

If you’re a veteran who’s got any more tips on teaching English to Polish students, we’d sure love to hear about them in the comments below. If you think it’s time you got TEFL qualified to explore everywhere from kingly Krakow to Baltic-side Gdansk and beyond, be sure to check out our range of courses

 

 

 

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