The importance of Polish as a language today
Tuesday, 10th July 2007
Simon Ager, language enthusiast, looks at the latest Eastern European language to spread its wings
Polish (polski) is a West Slavic language spoken by about 38 million people in Poland, where it is the official language. There are also native speakers of Polish in Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and the Czech Republic. Moreover, due to emigration at various times, there are numerous Polish speakers throughout Western Europe, especially in the UK and Ireland, and also in Australia, Mexico, Israel, Brazil the USA and many other countries.
The total number of people of Polish descent living outside Poland is estimated as 21 million, about a quarter to a half of whom speak Polish, and the total number of Polish speakers is about 48 million.
Polish is the Slavic language is the second largest number of speakers after Russian. It is most in common with Slovak and the two languages are largely mutually intelligible. Polish also shares a lot of vocabulary with Czech, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian.
In the UK today there are an estimated one million or so people with Polish connections. Emigration from Poland to the UK has been occurring for the past three centuries in a number of waves, the most recent of which started in 2004 when Poland joined the EU. About half of the Poles who have come to the UK since then plan to stay.
In parts of the UK and Ireland with large concentrations of Polish people, there are Polish churches, clubs, cultural centres, restaurants, newspapers, shops and schools. Polish language classes are popular with people of Polish descent who grew up without the language, and with others who have Polish-speaking partners, or who regularly come into contact with Polish-speakers in their work or elsewhere. Some shops now stock Polish goods and have signs in Polish, and some banks provide services in Polish, which may involve translating information into Polish, and/or employing Polish speakers to deal with Polish customers. There are even tours with Polish-speaking guides of London, Dublin and a number of other cities.
Polish is a useful language to know if you regularly visit or do business with Poland, and if you have contacts with Polish-speaking people elsewhere, especially in the UK and Ireland. A knowledge of Polish is will also help you communicate with Slovaks and Czechs, and is very useful if you plan to learn other Slavic languages.