Like most foreigners, when I first started learning Polish, I found it hard. The words were awkward to pronounce, the vocabulary was difficult to get my head around, and the grammar was a nightmare.
After a tough language lesson I felt exhausted. And I quickly learned that the best word to describe the process of learning Polish was ciężko (heavily).
Poles use the words ciężki/ciężka/ciężkie/ciężko a lot. In English, while we say that something is hard, difficult or serious, Poles say it’s heavy. A hard day is a ciężki dzień and hard times are ciężkie czasy. If someone has a serious illness, then it’s a ciężka choroba and they have a ciężka sprawa (difficult situation).
Why is everything so heavy?
Do Poles gather up all the hard, troubling stuff into a big pile and try to carry it on their shoulders? It’s no wonder that for many years the world’s strongest man was Polish. You need to be Pudzian just to bear the weight of all these problems!
In a way, learning the word ciężko is a physical activity, it’s a word that your body needs to learn as well as your tongue. To really speak Polish accurately, at the end of a long, hard language lesson, you need to slump your shoulders, bend your back, bow your head, and say how heavy the grammar was.
The word ‘heavy’ was once very fashionable in English. In the 1960s, at the height of Flower Power, hippies used it to describe any unpleasant thought or situation. Basically, they smoked a lot of weed and used the word ‘heavy’ whenever they ran out of drugs. Nowadays it’s hardly ever used in this way.
Because I heard the word ciężki / ciężko so much, I started to wonder whether, after the 60s had ended, all the hippies had moved to Poland. But, on second thoughts, they wouldn’t be able to cope. The Polish language is just too heavy, man!
Just when I thought that learning Polish was too much of a burden, I came across an expression which liberated me. Instead of weight, it suggested lightness. Instead of taking energy, it lifted me up. Whenever I said it, all that linguistic heaviness was instantly removed from my shoulders.
I remember the first time I heard it. What’s that? It sounds like the name of a rock band or a style of dancing. It didn’t sound like a Polish word at all.
The expression was spoko luz. Some people even turned it into a rap and said spoko loko luz!
And I noticed that when Poles said it, their body language was relaxed, care-free – their shoulders rolled back, their arms moved in and out and they seemed to bounce on their toes.
Whatever it meant, it seemed to be the antidote to the ciężki issue because when faced with a challenge, some Poles would say spoko luz, smile and give the impression that it was no problem at all.
But what is this spoko luz, I wondered? And more importantly, where do you get it? It wasn’t in the dictionary and asking Poles for a definition didn’t help much:
What does spoko luz mean?
You know, it’s luz… relaxed… cool… everything is alright.
They sounded like the hippies during the non-heavy moments!
As far as I understand, luz is a kind of freedom, but not political freedom. There aren’t demonstrations in which citizens fight for chleb i luz. It’s more like personal freedom in which you have all the time, space and resources you need. And spoko luz is the even more chilled and relaxed version of it.
Yin and Yang
Is learning Polish a spiritual experience? No. But you definitely need to keep you spirits up during the process!
And that’s why, despite the fact that their meanings aren’t directly related, for me, spoko luz became the opposite of ciężki/ciężko.
When it comes to learning Polish…
… ciężko is yin
…spoko luz is yang.
If I struggled with the grammar or pronunciation and felt the weight and darkness of ciężko approaching, I would say my mantra – spoko luz – shake off the heaviness and give it another go.