Thursday 5 March 2020

Tongue Freeze

Polish chateau
*Update (Friday): I finally had the courage to check, and I DID get the prefix right. "Abrenuntio" is "Odrzekam"in the Obrzędy Chrztu  and that's exactly what I said. So ha, ha, ha clueless young man at the champagne reception and hooray for me!

Update 2: I concede that 'Wyrzekam' is more colloquial, but that is not what is written in the Obrzędy Chrztu


Now that I am at home, I can recollect in emotional safety the linguistic successes and failures of our recent trip to Poland.

My biggest problem is panic. Panic really is the mind-killer. I am perfectly capable of having good basic conversations in Polish in my sitting-room or in a cafe with my tutor, but put me in the dining room of a Polish chateau, and suddenly all Polish evaporates from my brain.

I thought of coming up with a calming phrase that would make me relax but would also fit in naturally at the beginning of a sentence. A good one would be Nooooo, which just means "Yes" or "Well." However, my guaranteed brain calmer, which can only be used with strangers, is "Czy Pan/Pana mowi po angielsku?" This is the polite form of "Do you speak English?" and it is brilliant in its way because if I give my interlocutor the chance to speak English, I do not feel bad about any mistakes I'm about to mistake. My Polish is literally better than his or her English.

There is also a calming philosophy which is that a conversation is successful, no matter how many linguistic mistakes are made, if it gets the job done. Thus I began our Polish trip with three successful conversations: one involving the purchase of train tickets for four adults, one obtaining a coffee and pastry for Benedict Ambrose, and one learning that eventually we would have to take a shuttle bus from one train station to the next.

However, my next conversation, which was addressed to a large number of Polish Pretend Son's very real relations, was rather less successful because my Polish evaporated before I could say that I was very glad to see them all again and delighted to meet my goddaughter.

As I wrote yesterday, my most important Polish job, which was to present and represent my goddaughter to the Catholic Church was, amazingly, successful, although I think I may have got a prefix wrong.* [See above.] Afterwards I understood most of PPS's toast to the Matka Chrzestna, which was rather nice.

Then it was English, English, English, except for the refrain of Szła dzieweczka during the folk music extravaganza that took place between the roast goose course and the flaming wild boar.  Oh, and we were made to sing drinking songs, but we were given the lyrics to read, so that was easy.

Once back in the big city, I was able to order food and drink po polsku and also to voice my regret that I could not help a stranger find the address he was looking for. (My parents take great pride in fitting in well enough everywhere they go [Europe, Australia, USA] that people ask them for directions. Well, I was in that position on Tuesday morning.)  The most important  of these conversations took place when it was past noon, and it was raining, and we were starving, and all of a sudden here was a milk bar with tables free. Czy Pani mowi po angielsku? Nic nie szkodzi. Dla mnie pierogi ruskie, i dla męza kotlet schabowy. I piwę i wodę mineralną. Dziękuję.  

But that is all very A1 level stuff, and I read at a B2 level, so I really would like to be able to talk to PPS's friends and relations in Polish without having a tongue freeze. I went to the library and took out books on confidence. However, it seems from my test scores that I already have lots of confidence, so that's not the issue. The way forward may be to practise speaking to PPS's friends and relations, so I have an appointment to speak to one on Skype next Monday evening.


  1. Thank you so much for writing about your language experiences! You have inspired me to start learning a language a couple months ago.

    1. That's marvellous! Which language did you choose?