The Polish Demons In My Head

Being back in my home for Christmas was wonderful, but as I was coming back to Poland, sitting in the plane, I thought to myself: “in my home or at my home – or simply at home! That puzzled me for a moment.

Thinking about that, I felt troubled as another thought crept in: was I in the plane or on the plane? Clearly, I was on the plane. That’s good old English, which I only know too well. So why did I at first say to myself that I was in the plane or in my home? Anybody who has moved countries for a longer period of time may understand me. It’s those demonic voices in my head. I’ve lived in Poland for so long and in my work I’ve heard my students making the same mistakes over and over again that it has actually interfered with my thoughts and my language – wait, in my work or at my work, or at work?

Such conflicting thoughts also come to me while I’m standing in traffic, sorry, sitting in traffic. Yes, in England we sit in traffic whereas ever since I came to Poland, I now have to stand in traffic. I guess, when the traffic is moving slowly, we Brits crawl along while Poles tip-toe. So anyway, when I’m sitting in traffic, I sometimes phone to my wife when I need to talk with her. Two mistakes there, did you spot them? Phone my wife and talk to her!

What’s so embarrassing about this is that I hear the mistake in my head the moment I say it. Then I often repeat the sentence with the correction, making me sound a bit a like a malfunctioning parrot when I speak. This doesn’t happen all the time, but far more often than I would like. It’s even worse when I’m back in England and meet with my friends – meet my friends, no ‘with’!. I try to immediately correct myself before they even notice the mistake, but I’m sure they notice it. I see their eyes twitch.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. Believe it or not, this has actually made me a better teacher on lessons, or at lessons? In lessons! How? Well, my ears are extra sensitive to these mistakes. So every time I hear words or phrases such as these:

I have 30 years,

you have right,

I am backing home from work,

I go to my home,

see you in next week,

see you in Monday,

I don’t know what does it mean.

she is sister my husband,

my son wears dress,

I will shoot the answer,

that’s true but not to the end,

how does it look like?

is the lesson actual?

the film is a fantastic(fantastyczny) film,

I was in Italy,

you should buy it because it is an occasion

I think no…

These examples and MANY more ring in my ears like a bell, and signal ALERT! But thanks to my experience of the Polish language, I know exactly what my students are thinking, and I’m ready to correct them in an instant. I’m more understanding of why it is they are making such innocent mistakes, and I am quicker and more effective in putting my students back on track before their tongues get twisted. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes when speaking to me, because I know what you’re thinking…

And those demons in my head are indeed actually angels.


Learn My Language

-Rob Wolff



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