A promise is a promise: here are the details of my summer experience with Polish in its country of origin.
My monolingual friend—the one who provided me with my first conversations in Polish on his weekend in Barcelona—hosted me for the first days in Warsaw. Having spent some time talking, he knew my limits and adapted his speech to what I could understand and slowly introduced new vocabulary. He’s not aware of it, but he’s a great teacher. And in the end, we didn’t have a choice; we couldn’t speak anything else.
Moreover, the friends of his I met spoke English like I speak Polish. Dinners and Saturday night with them were pure linguistic immersion. Saturday night was also the one I spent introducing myself with ‘I speak Polish. I come from Barcelona’. There’s no way to resist a foreigner who fumbles with your language, yet they try even when it’s not a worldwide useful language? I should know; I’m Catalan.
My friend had to work a couple of days, which allowed me to experiment without mitigating circumstances because of friendship or alcohol. I first met a waitress with no linguistic empathy. When I addressed her in Polish, she spoke at native speed and I realized there might be something wrong with my pronunciation of slowly since she ignored my request. She probably saw the indignation in my eyes and decided to speak English instead of slowly. The guy at the bar was more helpful and even assisted me with some word that didn’t come out quite properly.
On my other free day, I needed to locate a place to buy a transport ticket for the weekend as the closest tram stop had no machine. My enterprise led me to a newsagent’s where a boy gave me a puzzled face, the directions to the right place and a thumbs-up—of course he couldn’t resist my fumbling with his unpopular language.
Mi next host had been on Erasmus to Spain, so we swapped between his language and mine depending on the complexity of the topic. One member of the couple who took me in later could speak proper English and the other could just speak it. I got excited when the latter didn’t know a word and I was able to provide a translation for the Polish word he said.
The fun part was that afternoon when his parents visited with a couple of friends. I found myself in the middle of a family meeting, trying to keep up. I probably seemed to succeed because the mother’s friend looked at me the way you’d look to someone who’s following your story. Later, she and the mother commented on my black eyes and dark skin and the mother added—I’m not sure why—‘And he’s clever!’ and I replied ‘Yes, I am’ and they fell in love with me. Their flatmate wasn’t that talkative, but he helped with my education one evening.
The last days were less fruitful. My last host’s linguistic empathy was close to that of the waitress. I took advantage, nevertheless, of his working hours for my deeds. After all, learning a language requires practising, putting shyness aside and not fearing mistakes—which are necessary to learn—, because even native speakers start making them.