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.

 

I Dare You To Pronounce These Polish Towns

Polish is often considered one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. Its convoluted combinations of the letters “s,” “c” and “z” and addition of unfamiliar letters like “ł” or “ń” make you want to drink several shots of vodka while smashing your face into a plate of pierogi.

If you’ve ever visited Poland, you might have found it difficult to explain where you went for the sheer fact that you couldn’t even pronounce the town name! “Warsaw” is easy enough to say, but some Polish towns were created to murder your tongue and vocal cords.

Below is a list of what I think are the top 10 hardest Polish towns to pronounce. Are you up to the challenge?

10. Szczecin:

Szczecin is Poland’s seventh-largest city, located in the northwestern part of the country near the Baltic Sea. It’s one of Poland’s major seaports and has a population of roughly 400,000. Szczecin is the highest-profile Polish town on this list, but it’s much easier to pronounce than what’s to come.

Stettin
Szczecin, Poland’s seventh-largest city, and tenth most difficult town to pronounce.

9. Rdziostów:

Located in southern Poland, Rdziostów has a population of only 431, and those people are the only ones who can pronounce its name properly.

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Rdziostów

8. Siemianowice Śląskie:

This is a town also located in southern Poland.  It’s not far from the major city of Katowice and was once a blue-collar industrial town. I hear there’s a brewery here. Gee, I hope so, for the sake of those who have to pronounce this town on a regular basis.

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Siemianowice Śląskie

7. Czechowice-Dziedzice:

Uh-oh, we have a hyphen in this town-name, and that’s never good. It even rhymes if you pronounce it correctly. This town serves as a major railroad junction between four major lines heading in all directions  and lies in southwestern Poland.

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Czechowice-Dziedzice

6. Pszczyna:

Located in southern Poland, Pszczyna is known for its beautiful Renaissance castle and other interesting historical sites. Unfortunately, nobody can figure out how this town got its name, with various scholars debating it to this day. You know the name is convoluted when even the Poles can’t figure out its origin.

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The Renaissance castle in Pszczyna.

5. Dzierżoniów:

Ok, I don’t know the deal with south/southwestern Poland, but here is yet another town that has a ridiculous pronunciation down there. Dzierżoniów is named after Jan Dzierżon, who was a Polish priest, scientist and human tongue twister.

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Dzierżoniów

 

4. Kędzierzyn-Koźle:

Another hyphenated town name! Yay! This was once two separate towns—Kożle and Kędzierzyn, until they decided their names were not complicated enough and combined in 1975. It’s located in southwestern Poland.

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Kędzierzyn-Koźle

 3. Ejszeryszki:

This village name looks like the alphabet vomited. It’s located far in northeastern Poland, right on the Lithuanian border. Ejszeryszki is part of Rutka-Tartak county. I know, it sounds like it’s from Star Trek or something.

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Ejszeryszki

 2. Łęczeszyce:

Łęczeszyce is a town near Warsaw in central Poland. All this place is known for is its centuries-old monastary. The monks inside are said to spend hours meditating on how to pronounce the name of the town they live in.

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The monastary in Łęczeszyce

1. Wytrzyszczka:

And number one….Wytrzyszka. I had the experience of driving through this southern Polish village a few months ago with my cousin and his dad, who decided to put my Polish skills to the test, daring me to read this town name as the car breezed past the welcome sign. I survived this masochistic game, but barely…let’s see how you do.

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The breathtaking Tropsztyn castle neat Wytrzyszczka.

Look at any map of Poland, and you’re bound to find more Polish towns that are spelled to kill. Do you have anything to add to this list? Comment below!