3.4 Communication strategies

Whilst it is useful for students to concentrate on a core of key language for any given topic, it is impossible to predict all the linguistic elements they might meet when reading and listening to authentic Polish, or which they themselves might need to use.

For this reason, the student will need to develop communication strategies as part of the teaching and learning process, which will greatly increase their ability to cope successfully with unknown words.

There are two main types of strategy: those that relate to understanding (reading and listening) and those that relate to production (speaking and writing).

Strategies for understanding

Ignoring words which are not needed

Many texts contain words which are not essential for an understanding of the main points of the text. Furthermore, what is important in the text is often presented more than once, in different ways: the student may not understand a point in one form of words and understand it fully in another. Students can be trained to read and listen in positive ways, seeking out in the text only the information they need to answer questions and to complete communication tasks and ignoring the rest.

Using the visual and verbal context

The skilled reader can find many clues about the purpose and content of a text from a study of the layout, the title, the length, the type-face and any related pictures. This is why texts are presented in the exam in their original format as much as possible. When reading and listening, students can learn to infer the meaning of new words from the verbal context. So, for example, someone who did not know the word brzoza could, after some appropriate practice, be expected to understand from the following context that it is some sort of tree: Usiadł pod brzozą, a na jej czubku siedział ptaszek i śpiewał.

Making use of grammatical markers and categories

Students will be helped to master all these strategies if, when reading and listening, they learn to use such clues as the plural forms of nouns or verbs, the ways verbs change to form tenses, word order and other such features which will help them to recognise to which category (verb, noun, adjective, etc) an unknown word belongs. This can be a considerable help in making intelligent guesses about the meaning of the word.

Making use of the social and cultural context

Another aid to correct inferencing is for the students to bear in mind that there are regularities in the real world which will make it possible to anticipate what people must say or write about it. The ability to predict occurrences in the real world makes it possible sometimes to predict the words, and the meaning of words, that represent these occurrences. This is one reason why it is important for a Polish course to offer insights and awareness into the culture and civilisation of Poland and Polish speaking communities like, for example, the very well organised Polish communities in England or America.

Using common patterns within Polish

Certain masculine nouns have no feminine counterparts and are used in the masculine form both for men and women.

  • doktor, profesor, inżynier, reżyser, świadek
  • Profesor Malinowska wyjechała do Anglii.
    • Czy świadek widziała pana K?
    • Gdzie jest pani doktor?
  • Formation of adjectives from nouns.

This is done by adding the following suffixes to the stem:

  • -ski
    • Polska - polski
    • Francuz - francuski
    • Warszawa - warszawski
  • -cki
    • student - studencki
    • Grecja - grecki
  • -owy
    • metal - metalowy
    • dom - domowy
    • poczta - pocztowy
  • -ny
    • szkoła - szkolny
    • nuda - nudny
    • trud - trudny
  • -iczny
    • tragedia - tragiczny
    • chemik - chemiczny
    • geografia - geograficzny
  • -yczny:
    • turysta - turystyczny
    • historia - historyczny
  • Formation of opposites of adjectives and adverbs by the addition of nie-
  • dobry - niedobry
  • spokojny - niespokojny
  • drogo - niedrogo
  • długo - niedługo
  • (a) Verbal nouns with the suffix -anie are formed from infinitives ending in -ać
  • -ać
    • oglądać - oglądanie
    • kupować - kupowanie
    • na/pisać - na/pisanie
    • za/planować - za/planowanie

(b) Verbal nouns with the suffix -enie are formed from infinitives ending in -eć/ec, -ić/yć

  • -eć/ec
    • zrozumieć - zrozumienie
    • piec - pieczenie
  • -ić/yć
    • chodzić - chodzenie
    • z/robić - z/robienie
    • za/prosić - za/proszenie
    • służyć - służenie

(c) Verbal nouns with the suffix -cie are formed from infinitives ending in -uć, -ić/yć

  • -uć
    • zatruć - zatrucie
    • zepsuć - zepsucie
  • -ić
    • pić - picie
  • -yć
    • myć - mycie

(d) Verbal nouns with the suffix -ęcie are formed from infinitives ending in -ąć

  • ąć
    • zamknąć - zamknięcie
    • przyjąć/przyjęcie
    • rozpocząć - rozpoczęcie
(e) Certain verbal nouns have lost their verbal meaning and have become nouns. They are neuter in gender and have plural forms
  • mieszkać – mieszkanie/a
  • zająć – zajęcie/a
  • ćwiczyć – ćwiczenie/a

Suffixes added to known words to form further nouns

  • robota – robotnik
  • trud – trudność
  • śpiew – śpiewak

Suffixes added to nouns to form verbs

  • odpoczynek – odpoczywać
  • przegląd – przeglądać
  • pismo – pisać
  • interes – interesować
  • telefon – telefonować
  • Diminutives

Apart from diminutives of proper names like, for example, Ewa-Ewunia, Jan-Janek, Barbara-Basia, Jerzy-Jurek, the majority of common nouns may also be used in their diminutive form. It indicates either a small size or is used in intimate conversations. The most common suffixes forming diminutives from basic nouns are the following:

  • masculine -ek (eg dom - domek, pies - piesek, kubek - kubeczek)
  • masculine -ik/yk (eg samochód - samochodzik, but - bucik, stół - stolik, strumień - strumyk)
  • feminine -ka (eg herbata - herbatka, książka - książeczka, bajka - bajeczka)
  • neuter -ko (eg krzesło - krzesełko, mleko - mleczko, oko - oczko)

Note that some diminutives have a meaning different from their basic forms or have two meanings:

  • woda - wódka
  • sałata - sałatka
  • biuro - biurko
  • kanapa - kanapka
  • zegar - zegarek

Many adjectives may also be used in diminutive form. The suffix -utki/a/e is the most common with adjectival diminutives.

  • mały - malutki
  • słodka - słodziutka
  • zgrabne - zgrabniutkie
  • Adjectival compounds denoting colours.

(a) In questions asking for colour, the genitive case is used instead of the nominative.

  • Jakiego koloru jest twoja nowa sukienka?

In answers to such questions two forms may be used, i.e. nominative or genitive

  • Moja nowa sukienka jest zielona.
  • Moja nowa sukienka jest zielonego koloru.

(b) In adjectival compounds denoting two colours, two adjectives indicating colour are used.

The first one has the ending -o, the last one ends in -y, -a, -e depending on the gender of the noun being modified. The adjectives are joined by a hyphen.

  • biało-czerwona flaga
  • szaro-niebieskie niebo
  • żółto-czarny but
  • The reflexive pronoun się with verbs.

(a) Certain verbs are always reflexive, i.e. they are always accompanied by się

  • napić się
  • cieszyć się
  • bać się

(b) Some verbs never take się in personal forms.

  • czytać
  • iść
  • pić
  • pisać

(c) The majority of verbs may appear with or without się, in which case the presence or absence of się changes the meaning of the preceding verb.

  • uczyć - uczyć się
  • ubierać - ubierać się
  • przedstawić - przedstawić się

(d) In a succession of two or more reflexive verbs, the reflexive pronoun się is usually not repeated.

  • Tomek denerwuje się i boi.
  • Janek goli się i myje.
  • Loan words which have a Polish ending or spelling.
  • dżinsy, dżem, manadżer, telewizor, spiker, kemping.
  • Impersonal phrases and sentences.

(a) Words like wolno, warto, można, trzeba, należy are followed by an infinitive.

  • Czy wolno gotować?
  • Nie wolno wprowadzać psów.
  • Można dodać…
  • Gdzie można umyć ręce?
  • Trzeba zacząć od
  • Nie należy przesadzać.
  • Warto dodać, że…
  • Czy warto się tak męczyć?

(b) Passive participle with the adjectival ending -o, (mówiono, słyszano) can also be used in impersonal phrases and sentences.

  • Podano kolację
  • Co mówiono o Kościuszce?
  • Dlaczego nie zbudowano tu lepszej drogi?
  • Wiele już o tym pisano.

(c) Some impersonal phrases are often expressed by third person singular or plural.

  • Dużo mówi się o…
  • Ludzie mówią…
  • Często słyszy się…
  • Forms of addressing people in Polish.

Young people, friends and relatives address each other in the 2nd person singular. Otherwise pan/panowie, pani/panie, państwo are used. Pani refers to both married and unmarried women.

After the singular forms (pan, pani) a verb in the 3rd person singular is used. After the plural forms (panowie, panie, państwo) a verb in the 3rd person plural is used.

  • Czy jesteś zadowolony?
  • Czy pan jest zadowolony?
  • Czy pani jest zadowolona?
  • Czy panowie zadowoleni?
  • Czy panie zadowolone?
  • Czy państwo zadowoleni?

In less formal relations after the forms panowie, panie, państwo, a verb in the 2nd person plural is used more and more frequently.

  • Czy panowie jesteście zadowoleni?
  • Czy panie jesteście zadowolone?
  • Czy państwo jesteście zadowoleni?

When addressing a person one should not use the addressee’s last name. It is considered bad style. Quite often, however, the word pan, pani is followed by the addressee’s title or rank. Using a title or rank alone is considered impolite.

  • Czy pan profesor jest zadowolony?
  • Czy pan dyrektor jest zadowolony?
  • Czy pani doktor jest zadowolona?

In more familiar relations the word pan, pani may be used followed by the addressee’s first name. Both pan, pani and the name are used in the vocative.

  • Panie Jurku, czy jest pan zadowolony?
  • Pani Basiu, czy jest pani zadowolona?

When addressing a person or attracting somebody’s attention the word pan, pani is preceded by proszȩ or przepraszam. Note that after proszȩ the genitive form is used, while after przepraszam the accusative is used.

  • Proszę pana, gdzie jest dworzec?
  • Proszę pani, gdzie jest postój taksówek?
  • Przepraszam pana, jak dojechać do hotelu?
  • Przepraszam panią, która godzina?

Greetings like dzień dobry may be followed by pan, pani which is considered very polite. They are followed by nouns in the dative.

  • Dobry wieczór panu.
  • Dobranoc paniom.
  • Dzień dobry państwu.
  • Formation of feminine nouns
    • Feminine nouns denoting persons or animals are formed by adding the suffix -ka, -ica, -anka, -yni to the masculine noun stem.
    • -ka:
      • kot - kotka
      • nauczyciel - nauczycielka
      • ekspedient - ekspedientka
    • -ica:
      • uczeń - uczennica
      • robotnik - robotnica
      • siostrzeniec - siostrzenica
    • -yni
      • gospodarz - gospodyni
      • dozorca -dozorczyni
      • wychowawca - wychowawczyni
    • -anka
      • kolega - koleżanka
      • Krakowiak - Krakowianka

Using cognates and near-cognates

There are some words, (eg cylinder, nowela, karawan, argument, ekspedient), whose meanings in Polish and English are totally different and therefore make it necessary to use this strategy with care. However, for every misleading word there are many others of which English speaking learners of Polish can, with practice, make good use. These fall into two main categories.


There are very many words which have the same form, and essentially the same meaning, in Polish and in English (eg anegdota, astronauta, badminton, dieta, defekt, generał). When such words occur in a context and learners can be expected to understand them in English, they will be expected also to understand them in Polish.


Learners will be expected to understand words which meet the criteria above, but which differ slightly in their written form in Polish usually by the addition of one or more Polish characters and/or the repetition, change or withdrawal of letter or letters (eg ambicja, telefon, paszport, adres, akcent, apetyt, autor, bandaż).

Using common patterns between Polish and English

There are some words in Polish, which, although neither cognates or near-cognates, can be easily understood with the application of a few simple rules. When words which can be understood using the rules below occur in context, students will be expected to understand them:

English words ending in ‘-tion’ are sometimes translated into Polish by changing the ending to ‘-acja’ (e.g. station - stacja, ambition - ambicja, situation - sytuacja)

English words ending in ‘-sion’ are sometimes translated into Polish by changing the ending to ‘-zja’ (eg television - telewizja, vision - wizja)

There are many words in present-day colloquial and technical Polish which have been taken from English, but given Polish spelling and a Polish ending (eg leasing, dealerzy, manadżer, komputer).

It is expected that strategies such as those outlined above will generally be more easily applied in reading than in listening, as reading offers more opportunities to slow down, to look at unknown items at some leisure and to study the context. For the same reasons, use of dictionary is often a more feasible proposition when reading than when listening. However, the general strategies for understanding listed above can, with practice, be used successfully in listening to Polish. In order to hear accurately, candidates should have the relationship between the spoken and written language brought to their attention. Words which look the same in Polish and English may sound different and conversely, words with similar sounds may be written very differently in the two languages.

Strategies for production

Research and experience show that people who communicate effectively in a foreign language tend to make good use of systematic and efficient verbal and non-verbal strategies in order to get meaning across, in spite of their imperfect command of the language.

Individual students may fail to learn, or forget language items required by some test items, or they may wish to attempt to go beyond the demands of the specification in completing the task set.

In these circumstances, the following strategies can prove useful. They fall into two main categories: non-verbal and verbal. The non-verbal strategies described below are clearly of limited value in the speaking tests of this examination; they may, however, prove useful to the learner.

Non-verbal strategies

Pointing and demonstration

Accompanied by some appropriate language (eg jak to, podobne do tego, jak to się nazywa?)

Expression and gesture

Accompanied where appropriate with sounds (eg ‘Oh!’ which, with appropriate intonation, facial expression and gestures can convey such attitudes and functions as pain, surprise, anger, fear, pleasure and admiration).


This again can be accompanied by appropriate sounds and language, and can sometimes help communication to be maintained when it might otherwise break down. This strategy has obvious limitations in an oral test which is recorded and assessed on the basis of the recording.


Can be an efficient strategy with some tasks (especially written) and can convey both attitude and information (eg J or L a diagram showing how to get from one point (eg a station) to another (eg a home).

Verbal strategies

Using a word which refers to a similar item

Using a similar word to the one the speaker/writer wishes to refer to, but for which he/she has forgotten the word (eg filiżanka for szklanka, kwiat for róża, or ojciec i matka for rodzice). This strategy is not always effective and its use would be assessed according to its effectiveness in a particular context.

Description of physical properties

Using description to refer to something of which the name has been forgotten (eg jest okrqgłe; to, na czym się siedzi przy stole; mała owca; owoc, który Ewa dała Adamowi). The physical properties refer, for example, to colour, size, material, position and shape. Again, the use of this strategy in an exam would be assessed according to its communicative effectiveness.

Requests for help

Can include requests for translation (eg Jak się mówi po polsku ?) and questions which make no reference to English (eg Jak się ta maszyna nazywa? Jak to się pisze?) Use of this strategy in the exam will not allow students to be given full credit. However, it is clearly preferable to use such requests for help than for communication to break down and its use will be assessed according to the context. When requests for help with specific problems occur, the teacher should maintain the role of a sympathetic native speaker and help accordingly. The teacher should, of course, avoid taking over from the student and carrying out the tasks set.


When a learner avoids the use of a form of which he/she is unsure (eg chcę zrobić instead of chciałabym zrobić or może wpadniecie do nas instead of może wpadlibyście do nas). When such simple forms are used correctly and appropriately they wil be awarded high marks. Correct and appropriate use of more complex forms will also be rewarded. A systematic use of simplified forms may reduce error, facilitate communication and increase fluency, but if overused, this strategy may result in students failing to make full use of their capabilities.


Where a student uses words and messages in acceptable Polish, avoiding the use of words which he/she has forgotten (eg ona nie ma męża or jest panną; podobne do…, wygląda tak jak…, ma przeciwne znaczenie co…). When used well, this strategy communicates the message effectively to a sympathetic native speaker and such use in an exam would be assessed accordingly.

Reference to specific features

A learner may use this strategy to describe something of which he/she has forgotten the name (eg zwierzę z długimi uszami; kwiat, który ma kolce). This strategy is often quite effective, and effective use would be assessed accordingly in an exam.

Reference to the function of an object

Similarly a student may refer to the actions that can be performed with an object whose name he/she does not know (eg coś, co się używa do otwierania butelek). This is a commonly used strategy which is usually effective in communicative terms.

Another strategy sometimes used by language learners is word coinage, the creation of words based either on English or Polish words. This strategy usually produces words which do not exist in Polish or which, if they do exist, have a different meaning from the one intended. The use of this strategy is rarely effective in promoting communication and students would be well advised to use it only if all other strategies fail.

Another commonly used strategy is topic avoidance, when the student ignores or abandons a topic because of inability to deal with it. Use of this strategy in the exam will not allow the student to be given full credit. Use of it in a learning situation will reduce opportunities for the development or expansion of the student’s repertoire. It is, therefore, a strategy which should be discouraged, as a basic condition for communication strategies to have a potential learning effect is that they are governed by achievement, rather than avoidance behaviour. Approaches which lay more stress on correctness than on communication will tend to encourage the use of avoidance strategies.

Appropriate use of the dictionary will help students to tackle particular difficulties and help eliminate the need to resort to avoidance.

Evidence suggests that the availability of a range of strategies such as those outlined above, and flexibility in their use, represent an important advantage in overall communicative effectiveness. It also appears that the most effective strategies demand some linguistic proficiency and that the more proficient speakers are also better at using communication strategies effectively. The development or such strategies cannot, therefore, be seen as encouragement not to develop linguistic knowledge as much as possible. Strategic competence is not a substitute for vocabulary learning, for example, but a useful supplement. Indeed, all language users make use of communication strategies, even in their first language, and really successful strategies usually pass unnoticed.