Polish is spoken by 50 million people and is part of the western branch of Slavic languages, and belongs to the Indo-European family.
Western Slavic languages: Polish, Czech, Slovak, and upper/lower Sorbian.
Eastern Slavonic languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian
Southern Slavonic languages: Serbian, Croatian (sometimes referred to as Serbo-Croatian), Slovenian, Bulgarian and Macedonian.
The differences between Polish and Slovak are roughly comparable to the differences between the German and Swiss German dialects (75% of the vocabulary similar or the same), the Ga.p between Polish and Russian is like Spanish and Italian (55-60% of the vocabulary the same or similar) and the gap between Polish and Bulgarian is as wide as between English and Dutch (40% of the vocabulary the same or similar). The most similar to Slavic languages are the Baltic Languages: Latvian and Lithuanian, but only 3% of the vocabulary is similar. Polish has many words borrowed from German, French and English – but there are numerous words that are “false friends” among Slavic languages.
History and classification: The Polish language belongs to the West-Slavic group of the Indo-European languages together with Czech and Slovak. It emerged from the Proto-Slavic language as used as the mother tongue of all Slavic tribes in the past. Polish has developed so much that the texts written in the Middle Ages are not 100-per-cent understandable to contemporary Poles and need to be read with a dictionary of archaisms. During the times of the Partitions of Poland (1795-1918) the Prussian and Russian conquerors tried to eradicate Polish identity, but their plans eventually failed and Poles retained their language almost intact.
Geographic distribution: Polish is the official language of Poland. It is also used as a second language in some parts of Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. This phenomenon is caused by migrations and resettlements as well as frontier changes brought by the Jalta agreement in 1945 after World War II. As a result, lots of Poles were left outside the territory of their fatherland. Polish is spoken, naturally, by Polish emigrants living all around the world, also by their children and grandchildren. The total number of speakers worldwide is about 50 million.
Dialects: There are only a few dialects that differ from the standard Polish language, however the differences among them are not significant and mostly based on regional pronunciation and vocabulary changes. The most distinguishable are the dialects of Silesia and Podhale (highlander’s dialect). Worth mentioning is Kashubian – a separate language used by the inhabitants living west of Gdansk near the Baltic Sea. The number of its users is estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. Although it is gradually becoming extinct, a lot of effort is being put into saving it and it recently begun to be taught at local schools as a minority language.
General characteristics: Polish, like other Indo-European languages, shares some Latin grammar and vocabulary. There are 3 tenses (past, present, future), 2 numbers (singular and plural), and 3 genders (masculine, feminine, neuter). There are no articles but Polish, like Latin, and is an inflectional language that distinguishes 7 cases, defining the noun usage in a sentence. This feature makes our mother tongue difficult to master and presents a lot of trouble to foreigners.
As an initiation to Polish it’s useful to know a few common expressions (you never know what may come in handy during your stay in Poland):
Dzien dobry : good day
Dobry wieczor : good evening
Dobranoc : good night
Czesc : hi / hello
Do widzenia : good bye
Prosze : please
Dziekuje : thank you
Dzieki : thanks (less formal)
Przepraszam : I’m sorry / excuse me
Tak : yes
Nie : no