Official name

Rzeczpospolita Polska (Republic of Poland), short Polska (Poland). The name probably derives from the western Slavic tribe of the Polans. This name again might derive from the Slavic word "Polje" (also Pol'je), which simply means field - thus Polans might have had the meaning of "people from the fields", but there are other theories as well.

Area & Population

Clickable map of Poland
Clickable map of Poland

312,685 km². This makes it slightly smaller then its western neighbour Germany.
The population is about 38.6 Mio* (2004). This means less then half of the population of Germany. Compared to western European countries, Poland is rather sparsely populated - but the density is much higher then in the countries east of Poland. Despite the fact of being a catholic stronghold, the population growth rate is around 0%.

Due to massive ethnic cleansing during and after World War 2, the population of Poland is comparetively homogeneous: 96.7% are Polish, 0.4% only German. Additionally, there are Belarusian, Ukrainian and other minorities - such as Armenians, →Karaim and - since very recently - Vietnamese (as of 2002).


Ever since, Poland is a traditional Catholic stronghold - hence it wasn't a surprise that the former archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła, became one of the most influential popes in the 20th century - of course, he's a well beloved person in Poland (and not only there of course). According to official figures, 95% of the population are Roman-Catholic, though the result of a census showed that "only" three quarters of the population are active believers.

Time zone

As in middle Europe: GMT +01 hr, with daylight-saving time (+1 hour) in summer.

*Source: CIA World Factbook   



The language is a member of the West Slavic branch of the so-called Satem languages, which again is part of the huge Indo-European language family. The closest languages to Polish are →Czech, →Slovakian and some minor languages such as Sorbian (spoken in the Lusatia - Lausitz - region in Eastern Germany).

Some dry facts about the language: Nouns have singular and plural forms, are either masculine, feminine or neutral (same as in Russian, German etc) and are written in small letters - names of course start with a capital letter. Polish grammar knows six cases plus the vocativ, which is only used for addressing someone. Of course there are several tenses, but there's for example only one past tense.

Generally spoken, Polish is spoken as written. A common feature of Slavic languages which is also (excessively) used in Polish is a large variety of sibilants. Some of them are written as a combination of consonants (see for example the place name →Szczecin, others are written using diacritics. Numerous Polish words have very few vowels but an almost unreadable constellation of consonants - very often 's', 'c' and 'z' - but these combinations often form a singular sound. This means that Polish looks unreadable on the first sight only - once used to it, it's much easier to get through it.

Ever since the Latin alphabet is used - but as already mentioned above, many diacritics (mainly with comma, dot and accent) add to the alphabet. One of the biggest mistakes is to ignore those letters and read the words the way one is used to it. To give an example - the large town Łódź is often pronounced "Lotch" or "Lozh" by non-Polish speakers. However, the real pronunciation is (IPA conform) 'wutɕ, rather close to "wootzh" if written in English. Needless to say that the wrong pronunciation causes trouble when traveling. Travelers exploring Poland on their own should get used to the following letters and pronunciation:

  • Ą (ą) : Nowadays a rarity in Slavic languages - a nasal 'o' (oŋ), close to the [ong] in [Hongkong] without stressing the 'g'.
  • Ć (ć) Like the 'ch' in "charity".
  • CZ Also close to the 'ch'.
  • Ę (ę) A nasal 'e' (eŋ), close to the 'eng' in "length"
  • Ł (ł) This letter only exists in Polish. It has nothing to do with "L", but is rather pronounced as the English 'w' as in "way".
  • Ń (ń) Soft [n], close to the Spanish 'ñ' - as the 'ny' in "Canyon (cañon)".
  • Ó (ó) A simple 'u' as in "put"
  • RZ See 'Ż'.
  • Ś (ś) Unvoiced 'sh' as in "cash".
  • SC Similar to 'Ś' ('sh').
  • Ź (ź) Sibilant somewhere between 'ts' and a voiced 'zh'. Should be heard to be understood - doesn't excist and many languages.
  • Ż (ż) Voiced 'zh' (or the French 'g') as in the French word "garage" (second 'g').

In Polish, almost always the syllable before the last syllable is stressed. Loan words are exceptions. Travelers who have traveled extensively or even lived in the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Ukraine (Western Ukraine) will find it rather easy to communicate in Poland. Knowing some Russian can be helpful, too - in that case, it's possible to grab many words but yet not possible to make oneself understandable. Many Polish - especially the youth - speak English and / or German very well. Except for the area along the border to Germany, chances are higher to get understood with English then with German.

→Click here for a comparison of some important vocabulary in Polish with many other Slavic languages.


To beautiful Lithuania Only for the passionate traveler: Belarus Shouldn't be missed: The Ukraine Highly recommended: Slovakia To the top of Simply a must: The Czech Republic To the capital Warsaw Worth a visit: Poznan Pure culture and history: Wroclaw aka Breslau To Szczecin near the Baltic Sea


Anonymous wrote:

I strongly disagree that young Poles can speak Russion. The most common and taught languages in Poland are English and German.From my point of view, I can say that knowing Russion is of no help and I'm also quite sure that if you're traveling to a big city in Poland you'll not have a problem to find a person who can speak English good enough to direct you to the place you're heading for. good luck!;)

Posted by Anonymous on October 30, 2008 10:30

tabibito wrote:

My mistake. Of course I meant English, and since this is a significant mistake, I've corrected it. Thanks for pointing that out.

Posted by tabibito on November 4, 2008 00:38



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