Polishism #5.0

For this Polishism you just need to record yourself saying out loud the following sentences. Go ahead and open up your phone or computer and use the camera or dictaphone app to record yourself. Later, you can check the difference with my pronunciation. Besides the “check your pronunciation” quiz below, you can click on any word or expression throughout the blog that is more complicated and italicized, and it will pop up in a new window in Diki.pl.  OK, let’s have some fun!

Record yourself saying these sentences out loud:

  1. Rabbits like carrots.
  2. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal.
  3. I am flying to Washington.
  4. She has a son.
  5. Everybody knows the Simpsons.
  6. It weighs a ton.
  7. The Boston tea party wasn’t much fun.
  8. I would like a slice of lemon for my tea.
  9. This wood foundation is full of rot.
  10. What is your method of teaching?



Crater Lake National Park, Oregon


Please check yourself with my recording. I was checking to see if you said the following words correctly: Carrots, Lisbon, Washington, Son, The Simpsons, Ton, Boston, Lemon, Rot, Method. Please pay attention to these words in particular when I am saying them out loud in the sentences. For now, the quality of my recordings isn’t the best, but soon a friend will let me record on good equipment and then I will update.

Listen here:

Read along:

  • Rabbits like carrots.
  • Lisbon is the capital of Portugal.
  • I am flying to Washington.
  • She has a son.
  • Everybody knows the Simpsons.
  • It weighs a ton.
  • The Boston tea party wasn’t much fun.
  • I would like a slice of lemon for my tea.
  • This wood foundation is full of rot.
  • What is your method of teaching?

English unfortunately isn’t a phonetic language, while Polish is. This is one of the very few things that is much easier when learning Polish than English. Even if I don’t know a word in Polish, but know how to pronounce the letters, I can say it with you understanding me. When foreigners or native English speaking children learn English, some native or fluent teacher must correct you. I remember my high school English classes where we would just read literature out loud, learning new words and having our pronunciation corrected. In fact, learning how to spell is a national sport in America, where each school participates in spelling competitions, called spelling bees. Check out this little kid go at the National Spelling Bee! To be honest, I don’t remember any classes where I learned at all about all the English tenses, and if you ask any native English speaker how may tenses are there in English. Most likely you will hear: 3! Past, Present and Future! English classes for me, were focused on reading literature, learning lots of vocabulary, and taking tons of spelling tests. Reading comprehension and vocabulary are two of the most important sections of our entrance exams to universities in America (which are called the SATs).

So why is spelling so difficult in English? I find that a little history lesson helps my students understand our non-phonetic language better. There are three periods of English: old, middle and modern English. Modern English truly started around the time of Shakespeare in 1550. If we rewind history to when Old English was spoken in the Iron Age, (of what is now the modern day British Isles) the inhabitants were Celtic. They were the Celtic Britons. I believe it wrong to say that English is a Germanic language (Although it does have lots of German Saxon, as well as North Germanic Viking constructions added into the Celtic language through the countless invasions and raids.) A lot of people don’t realize that Rome controlled England for nearly 500 years (As long as the history of Europeans immigrating and forming America.) This area was called Roman Britanniawhere they subjugated the nation and forced Latin onto the people, including forcing everyone to write in the classical Roman alphabet (+ the Greek letter Y). Before this invasion by the Romans, Old English was phonetic, and had special letters to capture all the sounds of English, which our modern day Roman alphabet cannot. Check out what old English looked like:

As you can see, there were many more letters that transcribed the proper phonetics. For example, you can find the consonants ð & þ which are both written as “th” in the Romanized alphabet. And you also see many more vowels like: æ, ǣ, ā, ē, ō, ȳ. That is why even though English speakers today use the Roman alphabet, there are many sounds that cannot easily be transcribed through this alphabet, and it causes a lot of headache and frustration for all humans learning English, both native and foreign alike 😉

Take Polish for example. Polish has 9 written vowels: a,e,i,o,u,y,ó,ę,ą and 8 spoken because u = ó.

Thanks to the Romans, English has only 6 written: a,e,i,o,u,y and 21 spoken!!!  22 if you count Australia!!!! YIKES!!!!! Polish, on the other hand, is a language of consonants. Polish has 31, while English only has 24, and it’s the consonents I have a problem with in Polish (the vowels are a piece of cake). Try to get me to repeat a perfect Polish “Ż” and “Ź” and you will surely smile 🙂

Take a look at a chart of English vowels, but please do not freak out, it’s only intended to make you more conscious of all the sounds that can be produced in English, even if we write using only the classic Roman A, E, I, O, U, and Y :

So, if you see a lot of spelling mistakes throughout my posts, take pity on me, because it’s English and I don’t have an editor. You can make a game out of finding this Native Speaker’s mistakes, just please send me a message and let me know. I will for sure congratulate you and blush at the same time.

Now, after getting back to the words I got you to say out loud. You probably weren’t aware of the English vowel sound called the schwa which is phonetically written as: ə (or “uh” in the Roman transcription). It sounds and looks really strange… I know. It is what some call a “dirty” vowel and is a reduction of all the other vowels, which happens in the back of your throat. Naturally, this is difficult for Poles that do not have any such “dirty” throat vowels/sounds in their own language. It is also a floating unstressed syllable,  which is also difficult for Poles, because Polish is very constant in stressing the 2nd to last syllable of each word. In English, the accent/stress of a word floats around and you have to learn each word seperately. For example, the word “about” has the “ə” or unstressed syllable at the beginning, while “Lisbon” has the unstressed “ə” in the last syllable. Therefore, you must learn where this schwa is from your teacher’s pronunciation or from looking it up in a phonetic dictionary like in Diki.pl.

There is always a hard stress in a one syllable word like “ton,” but if you add a syllable, one of the syllables must become unstressed. This unstressed syllable – the Schwa is found in any word that is more than one syllable long. The closest thing to a Polish letter is a “y” and so my students often transcribe it as “y” as Diki.pl recommends of the schwa.  In Polishisms # 1.0, I got you to look at the words: “Focus, status, cactus etc.” The end “u” in such words is also the schwa (remind yourself by clicking on the words or going back to Polishisms #1.0). My students will write down “Focus (FO-kys).” If you want to be even more fancy and win some kudos from your teacher, you can better write it as: FO-kəs.

So you see, the schwa is the master of hiding itself. And because of our crappy “Classic Roman Alphabet,” we have no good way to write “ə”  phonetically. This means it will show up anywhere disguised as any vowel. Be on the lookout! Out of the 20 vowels above that you need to become aware of,  by far the most and helpful one is the schwa. Click on the links to Diki.pl in the words below and pay attention to the sound and how it is written. For example carrot is phonetically written as: ker-ət or kærət. Notice below how the “o” sounds in each word, and how it is transcribed, especially if it has only 1 syllable or if it has 2 + syllables. Normally, when you see a 2+ syllable long word, there is a very good chance that the last syllable ending in “o + consonant” will be pronounced as an “ə” in the word.

  1. Carrot
  2. Lisbon
  3. Washington
  4. Son
  5. Simpsons (You can only hear it spoken in one of the sentences)
  6. Ton
  7. Boston (You can only hear it spoken in one of the sentences)
  8. Lemon
  9. Rot
  10. Method

Please take 3 minutes to watch this video for a good explanation:

If you have made it this far and find it helpful, please take a second to lajkować this post on my Facebook fan page, it will show up in your Facebook feed, and others will have a chance to stumble upon it and discover it too. If you would like to get more involved, please add a comment directly to my blog or on my fan page share. Your good energy and positive remarks are always welcomed. If you doubt or question my method, I do welcome constructive criticism, just please write it in a diplomatic way that will encourage discussion. A great big thank you to all of you!

Happy Sailing, Smooth Learners!

Elijah Pendergraft

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  • Asia K. says:

    OK, so now I understand why its imposible to write english. I am making this mistake and didn’t realize that I say carrot wrong 🙁 , and even my own “native” teacher 2 years ago never corrected me 🙁 I like your blog a lot!

    • Elijah Pendergraft says:

      Thank you! If you get a teacher again, go through this blog with him/her. It will help your native teacher understand where your problems naturally will come up in learning English! I just have a ton of experience and know what’s important to focus on. Take care

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