Polish is a Western-Slavic language with around 50 millions speakers in the world. It's widely regarded as a difficult language to learn!
But how long would it take you, the average English speaker to learn Polish?
It depends on so much... We've already established (or supposed) that you're an average English speaker, so let's assume that Polish is your first foreign language.
Now, factors like your learning approach, your motivation, your study schedule, your educational background and your surroundings play a part. When you take all of this into consideration, it becomes clear that any time estimates would depend on a lot of individual factors. Reaching a conversational level in Polish can take anywhere between 2-5 years. Some even do it faster, and some never get there!
Your approach for learning Polish - do you know what you're doing?
The first foreign language that I self-studied was French, and it took me a long time to get to fluency. The reason was that I wasn't sure how to approach learning a foreign language by myself. There are so many courses, programs, methods, techniques and approaches out there.
I eventually found out what worked for me, and I've since refined the method for numerous other languages. I wrote a guide for learning the Polish language that you might find useful if you're a complete beginner in self-studying foreign languages.
Learning Polish is a project that takes at lot of time, and focusing on the wrong approach can end up being a significant waste of study-hours.
That's why I recommend that you search out multiple different approaches and do more than one at the same time. Some things will turn out more effective than others and some methods are more useful in different time-frames when learning Polish. By constantly trying out new things, you can stick with the approaches you have success with and drop those that don't work. (for you).
The difference between picking the kind of activity that you know that you benefit from and just working mindlessly at it is huge. This sounds very obvious, but a lot of people end up spending multiple years on learning activities that don't really help.
So be smart about it!
Consistency in your Polish studies is more important than just studying a lot
Another thing that hugely influences the time it takes to learn Polish is the consistency of your study sessions.
When you've just set the goal to learn Polish, you're probably all excited about it. You want to get started and you want to make progress now. So you sit down one weekend, you pick up your beginner's course and you study for several hours.
And the next day, you realize that not a lot of what you just spent hours studying really stuck. Then you're encouraged and you put your Polish adventures aside for a while.
If this sounds familiar, listen up: to learn Polish, you need to be in for the long run. Sitting down to study for several hours won't give you a lot more than a headache. The key to learning a foreign language is more about quality than quantity.
Quantity is important too, but you need to spread it out. If you study for several hours in one sitting, chances are that your focus will diminish the longer you keep at it.
And an important part of learning languages is repetition. If you learn a new word today, you need to review it as soon as possible. Doing 7 hours of Polish in one go won't do you much if you don't nurture all that new information over the next few days and weeks. If you just let it sit, it'll disappear.
This is why I recommend that you study often and for short intervals.
Try if you can squeeze in three daily study sessions of 20 minutes into your everyday routine. That's a total of an hour a day. This is more than doable if you make use of your commute, coffee breaks, mornings and evenings. If you need ideas as to how to study Polish on a busy schedule, go read my article on the subject.
And do it every day! Consistency is extremely important, not only for learning, but also for staying motivated. If you do a little every day, you're sure to get there eventually!
How long does it take to learn Polish according to linguists?
The Foreign Service Institute, or FSI, is the American government institution in charge of teaching foreign languages to US diplomats. They've done so for decades and have developed programs for a wide range of languages. They're known for dividing the languages that they teach into groups according to the time that they estimate that each language will time to learn.
FSI's estimates are obviously based on their own method, which is intensive class-room courses where the student studies full-time for a number of weeks. The end result is what FSI call "professional working proficiency" in the language.
So before we get into FSI's estimates, you need to consider that both your study method and your end goal probably are different from what FSI suggests. Most people are happy with being conversational and they can always improve from there, so the time needed for "professional working proficiency" might not be as relevant. And as a self-student, your study approach might be quite different from FSI's intensive class-room courses.
But let's have a look at the language groups.
There are 4 categories of languages. The first one, group 1, consists of languages that are considered easy for English speakers. These are languages like French, Spanish, Dutch and Danish. FSI estimates that these take 5-600 classroom hours to master.
The second group is for languages such as German and Malay. These take around 900 hours.
The third one is for more difficult languages like Hindi, Russian, Thai, but also Polish. FSI estimated that these take 1100 classroom hours to learn.
And then there are Arabic, Chinese, Korean and so on. These take no less than 2200 hours!
But let's return to Polish. 1100 hours is quite a lot when you first look at the number. But if you divide it by 365, you end up with around three years. So if you're extremely efficient with your study approach and you do everything right, you just might be able to attain a high degree of fluency in 3 years!
I have to say that this is unrealistic for the average learner, though. You can get far by studying an hour a day for 3 years, but to reach "professional fluency" you need to really know what you're doing.
In my opinion, you can reach the upper intermediate stage of Polish in 3 years. This means listening, speaking, reading and writing at a reasonably high level, but not without making mistakes. If you want to perfect your Polish at this point (Polish off your Polish, anyone? No? Ok..) then you need to dedicate a couple of years on just that.
So how long does it take a self-student to learn Polish?
With a reasonably well thought-put study method, 1 hour per day and a lot of patience, I think that the average English speaker could learn Polish to the upper intermediate level in about 3 years.
Most people would agree that that's a long time, and it's one of the primary reasons that so many give up before archiving their goals in language learning. You won't get there if you aren't serious about it. Downloading an app and playing with it now and again won't cut it. Signing up for a class and studying Polish for two hours every weekend is definitely not enough.
But if you promise yourself to put in an hour a day for three years, you're almost guaranteed to make serious progress in learning Polish. But you'll need the consistency. You need to be patient and you need to keep your long-term goals in mind!
If you want to read more about how I'd recommend that you put together your Polish study plan, go read my article How to learn Polish by yourself.