Poland is a Central European country with over 38 million inhabitants. The country is bordering no less than 7 countries in addition to the Baltic Sea. This might be some of the reason why the country has so many minority languages.
15 languages are spoken by more than 3.000 people each in Poland. These consist mostly of regional languages that are also common in Poland’s neighboring countries, but immigration languages such as English, French, Italian, Spanish And Vietnamese are common too. In addition to that, Poland has around 14 smaller minority languages that different ethnic groups in Poland speak as their heritage languages.
- 1 The Polish Language In Poland
- 2 The Most Spoken Languages In Poland
- 3 Polish Minority Languages
- 4 Foreign Languages And Second Languages In Poland
The Polish Language In Poland
Despite the many languages spoken, the vast majority of the Polish population (98%) speak Polish as their first language. Polish is a West Slavic language, or more precisely a “Lechitic” language.
The Lechitic group consists mainly of smaller languages such as Silesian and Kashubian besides Polish, and the major languages that are related to Polish are found in other West Slavic branches. These are languages such as Czech and Slovak.
While Polish is a Slavic language, it isn’t written with the Cyrillic alphabet like Ukrainian and Russian and many of the other similar languages, but rather, it uses a variant of the Latin alphabet which has been adapted to fit Polish pronunciation.
Read also: “How To Learn Polish By Yourself“.
The Most Spoken Languages In Poland
In the following, I’m going to go through some of the most commonly spoken languages in Poland. The below list includes regional, immigrant and foreign languages spoken in the country and it is based on numbers from 2011.
The numbers reflect how many speak the language regularly, and not necessarily as a first language.
- Polish (37,815,606 – 99.5%)
- Silesian (529,377 – 1.4%)
- Kashubian (108,140 – 0.3%)
- English (103,541 – 0.3%)
- German (96,461 – 0.25%)
- Belarusian (26,448 – 0.07%)
- Ukrainian (24,539 – 0.06%)
- Russian (19,805 – 0.05%)
- Romany (14,468 – 0.04%)
- French (10,677 – 0.03%)
- Italian (10,295 – 0.03%)
- Rusyn (6,279 – 0.02%)
- Spanish (5,770 – 0.02%)
- Lithuanian (5,303 – 0.01%)
- Vietnamese (3,360 – 0.01%)
While some numbers appear high, everyday speakers of other languages than Polish are extremely rare in Poland. This is illustrated by the percentage of the total Polish population. Some of the above languages are, however very regional, and in certain towns and regions they might be spoken by a much bigger proportion of the local population.
Let’s look into each language a little more closely:
Silesian is a West-Slavic and Lechetic language closely related to Polish. It has been strongly influenced by German, and while some linguists consider it a dialect of Polish, others argue that it must be treated as a separate language.
Silesian is spoken mostly in the historical region of “Upper Silesia” in Southern Poland by over half a million Poles (and to a lesser extent, some Northern parts of the Czech Republic).
To listen to an example of Silesian, take a look at the video below:
Like Polish and Silesian, Kashubian is a Lechitic language from the West Slavic branch of languages, and like Silesian, Kashubian is often considered a dialect of Polish.
Kashubian is said to be a language that developed from Pomeranian which was a Lechitic language spoken by the Pomeranians – a Slavic tribe that might have existed in the modern-day Polish region of Kashubia even before the Poles arrived. Kashubia is located in North Western Poland by the German borders.
The Kashubian language is divided into a northern and southern dialect, and interestingly, these are almost not intelligible between each other.
Like Polish and Silesian, Kashubian has a considerable amount of German loan-words, but unlike the other languages, Kashubian has borrowed a lot of words from Low-German dialects and slightly less from High-German as opposed to the others.
Kashubian is spoken by a little more than 100.000 Poles who’re mostly situated in the region of Kashubia.
To hear an example of Kashubian, watch the below video:
While an important amount of Poles speak English as a second language, quite interestingly, around 100.000 Poles speak English at a regular basis. One would suppose this being due to the presence of many American or British expats living in Poland, but the total number of native English speakers in Poland only reaches 7.000.
Around 50% of Poles speak some level of English as a second language and I’ll get more into this later.
A little less than 100.000 Poles speak German as their first language, but there may be as many as 500.000 Poles of German descent.
The German minorities in Poland have been present in the country since the middle ages. Since the middle of the 20th century, High German (or standard German) has been the dialect spoken by the Polish Germans. Before that, however, the “Silesian German” dialect was the main language spoken by the German minority.
Most of the German minority live in the Silesia and Opole provinces in the South of Poland.
The Belarusian language is spoken by around 26.000 people in Poland as a first language. They are members of the Belarusian minority in Poland, a community of a little less than 50.000 people, and they mostly live in the Podlaskie province of North-Eastern Poland.
The Belarusian minority of Poland used to be much bigger, but due to an active assimilation effort, most of the Poles with Belarusian ancestry consider themselves Polish today.
The number of Poles with Belarusian descent might be as high as 250.000, but according to some sources, the Belarusian community is a victim of discrimination and political neglect, which makes the preservation of the Belarusian culture and language in Poland quite difficult.
Around 40.000 Polish citizens are part of the Ukrainian minority and 25.000 of them speak the Ukrainian language as their mother tongue. The number of Ukrainian migrant workers in Poland is much higher than that, however. Some 1,3 million Ukrainians currently work in Poland on temporary work permits which makes for a very significant population.
The Ukrainian minority (and not specifically Ukrainian migrant workers) mostly reside in big cities like Warsaw, where it wouldn’t be unlikely to hear the Ukrainian language spoken now and again.
Poland has some 19.000 people who speak Russian as their first language.
The number of people who speak Russian as a second language is much higher, however. Some statistics say 14% to 26% of the Polish population speak some level of Russian.
Russian used to be an important language in the whole of the Soviet Union, and especially educated Poles of earlier generations speak Russian to this date. Similarly, many immigrants from ex-Soviet countries in Poland speak some degree of Russian.
Poland has 14-15.000 native Romany speakers, who are part of the Romani minority in the country.
The total number of Polish citizens of Romani descent might be much higher, however.
The Romany language is an Indo-Aryan language that originally came from the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent. The Romany language is spoken all over Europe with a higher concentration of speakers in central European countries.
In Poland, the Romani population are spread out geographically with only a slight concentration in the southern parts of Poland.
Surprisingly, the French language is spoken by almost 11.000 people as an everyday language in Poland, despite the number of first-language French speakers being very low.
Poland has around 10.000 everyday Italian speakers, some 5.000 of them living in Warsaw.
According to this article, the number of Italian migrant workers in Poland has been rising the last few decades. The Italians mostly immigrate to Poland to work in mulinational companies or in the catering industry.
The Rusyn language is spoken by some 6.000 Polish citizens as an everyday language. Historically, the Rusyn minority in Poland has been centered in the South-Eastern parts of the country, but today, speakers of the language are scattered all over Poland.
In Poland, Rusyn is often referred to as Lemko, and the language is considered to be a dialect of Ukrainian by many.
Much like it’s the case with Italian, the Spanish community in Poland is growing.,
Today around 6.000 everyday speakers of Spanish live in Poland, most of whom for professional reasons.
Lithuanians are a recognized minority of Poland and as many as 15.000 Poles have Lithuanian descent, while only about 6.000 of these speak Lithuanian as an everyday language.
The Vietnamese language is spoken by around 3.400 Polish citizens as an everyday language. At least that’s the official numbers. Estimates go as high as 60.000 and the big difference might be due to the number of illegal immigrants who don’t show up in the official statistics.
This makes the Vietnamese language one of the most spoken foreign languages in Poland. Add to that that the wast majority of Poland’s Vietnamese speakers reside in Warsaw, meaning that it most likely would be possible to get by in some parts of the capital while only speaking Vietnamese.
Polish Minority Languages
Poland used to be a multi-ethnic and multilingual country with big numbers of people speaking many different languages.
Today, Polish is the all-dominant language spoken by the vast majority.
The multi-ethnic history of the country is still visible when looking at the composition of the country’s minority languages, despite the number of speakers being low.
The official minority languages of Poland are:
Some of them have already been mentioned earlier in this article. Others have such a low number of native speakers that it isn’t part of the list.
They all have the fact in common, however, that the members of the minority who speaks the language has the right to education in the language as well as certain specific rights.
Foreign Languages And Second Languages In Poland
The three major second languages spoken in Poland are English, Russian and German.
Like it’s the case of most countries in the word, Poland has a growing number of English speakers, and English is generally taught in schools to the majority of students.
Different statistics put the number of proficient English speakers in Poland between 33% and 50% of the population.
Russian, on the other hand is not a foreign language that many Poles learn today, but due to Poland’s past as a member of the Soviet Union, earlier generations often speak Russian at a certain level.
Many immigrants from ex-soviet countries equally speak Russian, which is part of the reason why around 26% of the Polish population speak some Russian.
Lastly, German is spoken as a second language by around 19% of the Polish population. The proximity to Germany along with the big minority of Polish-Germans are part of the reasons for the importance of the German language in Poland.