Welcome to the English with Josh Q&A! As you will see below, people have sent me questions about learning English, about myself, and about my experiences living in Poland. Thank you again to everyone who sent questions. If there’s anything you’d like to ask which is not answered below, please send me a message or an email. I look forward to hearing from you!
1. What are the best methods to learn a language quickly?
Unfortunately there are no short cuts when it comes to language learning; it takes a lot of time and hard work to learn any language, and the most important thing is to be patient and consistent.
Having said that, to learn a language quickly, you should use the language as much as possible. Don’t wait until your level of English is “good enough” to use it; put yourself in situations where you have to use it, and use the resources you have to communicate as best you can. This will be difficult, frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing, but it is also the best way to improve your language quickly and meaningfully.
2. What mistakes do Polish people most often make in English?
Two things almost every Polish person has trouble with are articles (a/an/the) and the present perfect tense (e.g. I’ve been to Warsaw but I’ve never been to Tokyo.) These things don’t exist in Polish, but are very common in English and the rules for using them are very complex. The good news is that people will usually understand you even if you make mistakes.
A lot of Polish people also have trouble with “th” sounds (/θ/ or /ð/), so “We thought about having three children,” might sound like “We fought about having free children.” The difference between /ɪ/ (as in “sit”) and /i:/ (as in “seat”) can also cause problems which can sometimes be embarrassing!
3. How do I improve my pronunciation to not have a super heavy foreign accent?
This is a question which I get asked a lot, and there is no simple answer, but there are a few important things to know.
Firstly, remember that everyone has an accent, including native speakers. It shouldn’t matter if your pronunciation is different, as long as people understand you.
Secondly, almost anyone who didn’t learn the language as a child will always speak with an accent. Unless you are have a particularly good ear for sounds, your pronunciation will probably never sound like that of a native speaker.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work on your pronunciation, or that you can’t improve! One way to do this is to think about what our mouths do to make certain sounds; you can even look in a mirror to watch your mouth to make sure you’re doing it correctly. For example, to make the “th” sounds mentioned earlier, you need to touch your top teeth with your tongue, and then push air between your tongue and your teeth. The more you practise, the easier and more natural it will be!
Another way to work on your pronunciation is by “shadowing”, which I talked about in an earlier post.
And remember: to native speakers, foreign accents may sometimes sound funny, but also they may sound charming or even sexy!
4. In your opinion, which English accent is easiest to listen to for a beginning learner?
That’s a difficult question. There are certainly differences in pronunciation between different varieties of English, and individuals will find different accents easier to master, but I don’t think that any of the accents are necessarily easier to learn in general. The easiest to learn for you will probably be whatever accent you hear the most, so for example if a lot of the English you hear is from American movies and TV, then a General American accent will probably be most natural for you, whereas if you live in the UK and spend a lot of time watching BBC, you might find the RP accent easier to pick up.
Having said that, it’s always a good idea to try to expose yourself to as many different accents as possible.
5. Do you prefer to teach lower or higher level students?
All levels have their own challenges. Lower level students are satisfying because it’s easier to see the progress they’re making, and also it’s generally easier find material for students at lower levels. However, with higher level students it’s easier to use a wide range of authentic materials, and these students often ask more difficult questions. I like it when a student asks me a question which I don’t know the answer to right away, because it means we both get to learn something.
6. Do you only use English during your lessons, do you speak Polish during lessons at all?
I prefer to avoid using Polish in my lessons, for a number of reasons. Translation between languages is very convenient, but in the long term, it’s a serious disadvantage to be thinking in one language and then trying to translate in your head. It’s also very important to practise skills such as explaining what you mean when you don’t know or can’t remember a word, and inferring the meaning of words from context. Therefore, I believe that it makes sense when you are learning English, to learn in English as much as possible, and to avoid using Polish during lessons.
7. How did you end up in Poland?
I get asked this question a lot; people are often surprised to meet an Australian living in Poland. To make a long story short, I met a Polish girl in Australia and fell in love! We met and got married in Australia and then decided to move here.
8. What’s your favourite word in Polish?
My favourite Polish word is probably “kombinować”. Translated into English, the meaning is something like “to work something out” or “to come up with a solution”, but it can also have connotations such as bending the rules a bit in order to get what you want or do what needs to be done. I like this word because, to me, it reflects a certain type of “can do” attitude which I associate with Polish people and Polish culture.
9. What are the most difficult Polish words to pronounce? Szczecin?
“Szczecin” is a word which I have to say a lot (since I live here) and while it’s not difficult to say, it can be difficult to say correctly! One word which I often have trouble with is “skrzynka”, as in “skrzynka pocztowa” (mail box). Whenever I have to say this word in a conversation, my tongue goes on strike and refuses to cooperate!
10. What has surprised you the most in Poland?
There were some cultural differences which took me by surprise. When I moved to Poland, I used to smile at strangers in the street a lot, which is normal in Australia, but people here looked at me like I was crazy! Generally people in Poland don’t smile unless they’ve really got something to be happy about!
11. What’s the best and worst thing about living in Poland?
The best thing about living in Poland? Probably the food, especially my father-in-law’s cooking. Also the friends I have made in Poland since I moved here, and being close to my wife’s family is also good. The worst thing, of course, is that the rest of my family is back in Australia. Fortunately, we are able to keep in touch via messages and video chat, but it’s not the same as being there.
12. Do you know any other languages?
The short answer is: no. Apart from English and a little Polish, I don’t speak any other languages. I have studied French, Indonesian and Japanese at different times, but unfortunately I have not kept up my practice with any of those languages and I only remember a few basic words and phrases. If I can ever get Polish language under control, I hope to continue studying other languages in the future.
13. Is it true that everything in Australia wants to kill you?
This is another question that I hear a lot! It’s true that we have many dangerous creatures in Australia, but on the whole Australia is a very safe country, and is also home to many cute, fuzzy animals such as koalas, bandicoots, and quokkas.
That’s all for this Q&A. There were a few good questions which I haven’t managed to answer, so there will be another one of these posts sometime in the future, so please keep the questions coming!