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Sounds of Polish – Phrases tips, IPA suggestion

I would like to suggest, as was discussed in the Tips & Notes feedback topic to add IPA transcription for every grapheme presented in the table in Phrases skill.

I would add a short paragraph about IPA and links to appropriate sound descriptions on Wikipedia. Below is my proposal for the letters-to-sounds fragment of Tips and Notes:

This lesson does not introduce any new grammatical concepts, so let’s use this opportunity to have an overview of Polish letters and their corresponding sounds.

The tables below show graphemes (letters and groups of letters corresponding to one phoneme, sound) of the Polish language, examples of Polish words where those appear, English words where similar sounds appear and International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions of the most common realizations of the phonemes.

If you don’t know IPA, that’s perfectly fine, learning English approximation of these sounds and listening to the recordings in exercises should be enough to learn decent Polish. Last column of the tables is for those, who want to make more effort to sound a bit closer to Polish native speaker.


letter – Polish example – English approximation – IPA

a – taklarge – [a]

ą – majądome – [ɔw̃], [ɔm], [ɔn]

e – chlebbed – [ɛ]

ę – mężczyznasense – [ɛw̃], [ɛm], [ɛn], [ɛ]

i – onimeet – [i]

o – mlekopore – [ɔ]

u/ó – lubię/córkaboot – [u]

y – tyroses – [ɨ]

Note that u and ó are used to represent exactly the same sound.


letter(s) – Polish example – English approximation – IPA

c – dzieckocats – [ʦ]

ć – byćcheap – [ʨ]

cz – ciasteczkachip – [t͡ʂ] or [ʧ]

dz – jedzeniegods – [ʣ]

dź – niewiejeans – [ʥ]

dż – emjam – [d͡ʐ] or [ʤ]

h/ch – hak / chów – (Scottish) loch – [x]

j – pijęyes – [j]

ł – chłopiecwill – [w]

ń – końonion – [ɲ]

ś – cześćsheep – [ɕ]

sz – proszęship – [ʂ] or [ʃ]

w – wivine – [v]

ź – mężczyźnivision – [ʑ]

ż/rz – żczyzna/dobrzetreasure – [ʐ] or [ʒ]

Note that some sounds are represented by a combination of two letters. This is a purely orthographical matter – they are not “longer” or “double” in any way.

ż and rz are used to represent exactly the same sound, the same goes for h and ch.

We have omitted some consonants here (b, d, f, g, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, z). Some of them are pronounced exactly as in English, while in case of the others the difference is rather minor – if you pronounce them like in English, your Polish should still be perfectly understandable.

These are very basic and simplified guidelines. There are still other things that you should learn if you want to fully understand why some words are pronounced the way they are, but we will focus on them at a later stage.

If you are a phonetics geek and want to know more now, you can head to more in-depth explanation of Polish phonology on English Wikipedia and Wikipedia Help page about IPA for Polish sounds.

If these tables overwhelm you, remember that you will not encounter all of these right away. While making your way through the course, you will probably be able to slowly get accustomed to Polish letters and sounds. Feel free to come back here later if you have any doubts.

December 13, 2015


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Thank you! I have integrated IPA into the tables in Tips Notes. I used your template, hope you don't mind :)

Managed to fix it somehow, looks good on my preview. It will take some time before it is uploaded to the course.


Sure! Thanks for doings it, and I’m glad I could help to improve it. :)

I’ll still try to somehow fix it in the post, in case somebody tried to read it here in the future.


OK, I managed to somehow correct the vowels table, using CSS magic. Going to do the same for consonants. :)


Pretty cool. I am not sure about the the English "dome" having the same sound as "ą" which is much more like "own". It should be stressed that 99 percent of the language is pronounced exactly as spelled. The only exceptions being foreign words AFAIK. Thank God one thing about Polish is simple!


Well, there occur some regular phonetical changes in phonemes, not listed above. First, Polish tend to unvoice everything at the end of a clause, so niedźwiedź sounds like if it was spelt *niedźwieć ([ˈɲeʥvʲeʨ]), except for when it is before another word starting with voiced consonant or vowel… Then, again /ɛ/ might be actually pronounced [e] between two palatal consonants (like in niedźwiedź), etc.

But those all are regular changes. The writing system is almost perfectly phonemic, so some sounds only change to their similar allophones to make them easier to pronounce with surrounding sounds. And that is pretty simple. :)


There are also a few true irregularities in native words, here are a few examples:

  • In zmarznięty (frozen), the r and the z are pronounced separately and not like ż
  • In piętnaście (15), the ę is pronounced like e instead of the regular en (ę before t is pronounced en)
  • In sześćset (600), the ć is not pronounced
  • The word (feminine accusative of "this") can be pronounced as (the irregularity is actually more the fact that it’s written , little words like this one usually take the same declensions as adjectives and the feminine accusative declension of adjectives is )

But there are not many such irregularities, you can just learn them when you encounter them. As silmeth says, there are various regular phonetic changes, most importantly devoicing:

  • all consonants are devoiced at the end of words
  • tw is pronounced tf
  • prz is pronounced psz
  • and various other combinations (see here for the exact rule), for instance także (also) is pronounced tagże whereas takrze (if it were a word) is pronounced taksze (does anyone know a minimal pair where one word is written with ż and the other with rz and only the second one gets devoiced?)
  • in the ending of the imperative first person plural (for instance chodźmy (let’s go) is pronounced like choćmy), whereas it shouldn’t get devoiced if we follow the normal rules for devoicing

Then there are also various other rules about pronunciation of ę and ą and about stress (most of the time on the penultimate syllable but not always).

Those regular changes are much more frequent, so it’s good to get a feel of them. If it sounds like the voice is pronouncing t instead of d, or f instead of w, or om instead ą, etc., don’t assume it’s an error.


I can't say I can actually tell the difference between cheap and chip, sheep and ship, jeans and jam...


IPA charts should help a lot with this too. You can actually hear each of these sounds with them, unfortunately I can't post a link since my computer won't let me paste anything for some reason >_<

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