Say What? How to Pronounce those Polish Letters

The Polish Alphabet

The Polish alphabet, with some extra crazy letters.

If you have no knowledge of the Polish language and want to learn it, no one will blame you for wanting to give up approximately 10 minutes after checking out the grammar and pronunciation.

Polish is tough. Many learners agree that it’s one of the harder languages to learn if your native tongue is English. The good news is that the alphabet is the same…sort of. There’s a few extra letters in the Polish alphabet that are not in English. You might come across these from time to time in a Polish last name, recipe or city.

Although I’m not qualified to teach you the entire Polish language, I can help you understand how to pronounce these letters so you’re more familiar when you encounter words that contain them. Below are explanations of the sounds, followed by an audio file. I do my best—I’m still an American.

Ą (ą)

First up, the “A” with the little tail thing (I’m sure there’s a fancy name for it). When you see this in a word, DO NOT pronounce it like the letter “a.” Rather, it has a nasally “own” sound. Sounds kind of French.


Ć (ć)

Cha, cha cha. The letter “Ć” has a “ch” sound, as in “church” or “choo choo.” There’s a little more to it, though. Check out the audio.


Ę (ę)

Here’s the “E” with the little tail thing. It has an “en” sound, like in “ten” or “hen,” but there’s a nasal accent. Listen to the recording to hear it for yourself.


Ł (ł)

Get ready for this. No, the letter “Ł” does not sound ANYTHING like the letter “L.” Instead, it has a “W” sound. Polish logic, right? So basically pronounce it like you would the English “W,” such as in “whale” or “win.”


Ń (ń)

The nearest English equivalent to the Polish letter “Ń” is the “ny” sound in the word “canyon.”


Ó (ó)

This one is easy. Pronounce “Ó” like “oo,” such as in “cool” or “tool.”


Ś (ś)

The Polish letter “Ś” generally sounds like “shh.” Again, this is one you will want to hear because there’s a little twist.


Ź (ź)

For me, the variations of the Polish letter “Z’s” are the hardest to pronounce because it’s hard to find an English equivalent. For the letter “Ź,” the nearest equivalent I found was the “si” sound in “Hoosier.”


Ż (ż)

Again, it’s hard to find an English equivalent to teach the sound of the letter “Ż.” It sounds close to the “si” sound in the word “allusion.” You might be struggling to notice the difference between this and the last one. Check out the recording.

 

I hope that helped you, even a little bit. I think even knowing that “Ł” sounds like “W” is important. Imagine the difference that can make in a word.

 

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5 thoughts on “Say What? How to Pronounce those Polish Letters

  1. My last name in Poland began with the letter L with a slash through it. My great-grandfather changed it to the English W. Some cousins changed it to plain old L and left it at that. English is crazy too but English speakers rarely think of it as such.

    Like

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