Ignoring the cases while learning the Polish language

As we all know, the Polish language is not an easy one. Considering factors, such as the student’s temper, their prior experience at foreign language study, their prejudice concerning the Polish language, the group of languages where  their native tongue originates, it is not a surprise that all sorts of ideas about how to learn the Polish grammar occur. Ideas about how not to learn it, or how to learn it as little as possible, also come into being.

Students, whose mother tongue does not contain the word ending modification due to case change (for example, in English – I see Anna; I don’t like Anna – the word Anna never changes) sometimes believe that this language element is completely reduntant. After all, if the English language manages without it, it cannot be that crucial, right?

The problem is, even though in English we don’t use any ending modification, it is not true that there aren’t any cases. They are simply introduced by certain prepositions, for example by planeplane alone doesn’t carry the same meaning. So maybe it is sufficient to use Polish prepositions with the basic (Nominativus) form of the noun and/or adjective – Znam Ania; Nie lubię Ania; Mówię o Ania?

Can these sentences be understood? Of course they can. In my career I have met several foreigners who decided to follow this learning path. I am always determined to talk them out of it, though. There are a few reasons for that:

  1. Even if we assume that the above described system with using prepositions together with the basic form (Nominativus) works, there are still several expressions that require a specific case without any accompanying preposition, that could be a meaning carrier. For example, jeść łyżką. By choosing the Instrumentalis form łyżką we mean to say that we perform the action of eating with the spoon, not on spoon. In other words, that it is a tool we use, not an object of our eating. If we only say jeść łyżka, it might sound like an attempt to say to eat the spoon, rather than to eat with a spoon.

As you can gather from the above, the preposition + Nominativ system is not very reliable.

  1. Repeating the incorrect forms in our communication leads to acquiring bad habits. And we all know bad habits are hard to lose. So if we care to oneday speak correctly, taking the shortcut is not recommended.
  2. The most important reason: even if, by using the preposition + Nominativ system, we manage to create messages comprehensible to people in our circle, it will never work the other way around. Poles will use proper case forms in their conversation. Same goes to all written content. If you have no clue about the case change triggered ending modifications, there is no way for you to realise that w cieście actually comes from the word ciasto, which you might be familiar with. One cannot function in a language without understanding of the verbal and written message.

Thus, it is highly recommended to try to acquire the understanding of cases in the Polish language from the early days of learning. Of course, keeping in mind that nothing terrible will happen if we say Lubię Anna instead of Lubię Annę from time to time.

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