The Polish Language Test

In his Polish history God’s Playground, Norman Davies describes a test used by Polish troops during the 14th century to check whether a suspect was actually Polish:

“Investigations into the Cracovian revolt were assisted by a simple language test. Any suspect who could correctly pronounce ‘soczewica, koło, miele, młyn’ was judged loyal; he who faltered was guilty.”

Norman Davies, God’s Playground, volume 1, p77


Clearly, Polish words are so difficult to pronounce that foreigners can’t even pronounce simple words like wheel or mill correctly.

I actually had to undergo a similar test in a Notary office one day. Before he would notarize the document I was signing (which was in Polish), the notary insisted I read the document aloud to prove that I understood it. I read one sentence and he said ‘stop’. He had heard enough and by pronouncing one sentence correctly, I had passed the test.

tongue twister_jpg

On many occasions, I’ve experienced Poles using a variation on this technique. When they heard that I’m learning Polish, they immediately respond by asking me to repeat a tongue-twister about a beetle in Szczebrzeszyn (W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie). This has happened so often that I’m curious why.

Obviously, it’s difficult and Poles want to challenge a foreigner with some particularly tricky Polish pronunciation.

However, I sometimes wonder if it’s defensive too. Are they saying ‘don’t get so good at Polish that we don’t know you’re foreign anymore!’ and by hearing me fail, they are comforted that only real Poles can say the ridiculously difficult beetle tongue-twister?



4 thoughts on “The Polish Language Test

  1. Hehe, please don’t be offended by the “w Szczebrzeszynie” test 😉 It’s just a phrase that we use a lot as children, when we are still learning the right prononciation. Learning to say it right was like a promotion in the neighborhood 😀 Gives you a sensation of great achievment 😉 I guess when you say you’re learning polish, it triggers the memory of the time, when we were still learning, and people were often asking us to say it 😉

    Also it was sometimes used as a test, if we are old enough to play 😀 Especcialy the other one: “stół z powyłamywanymi nogami” 😉
    – Can I go with you to slide from the highest point?
    – Can you say “stół z powyłamywanymi nogami”?
    – Stół z powyłałyła…łyyy….
    – Haha, you’re too young, go to your mommy 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Brzechwa Blues | Polisher

  3. It’s Polish inferiority complex coupled with good old Schadenfreude. We just love to hear foreigners (especially from the West) fail at something as simple as pronouncing a single sentence. At last there’s something we’re better at than other people!

    Liked by 1 person

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