Dzień dobry means “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” in Polish. (Just in case you don’t speak Polish.)
Polish is not an easy language for Anglophones. The first thought that ran through my head when I saw some Polish text was that the country is suffering from a shortage of vowels! Words like “Przepraszam” (Excuse me) and “Dziękuję” (Thank you) are pretty daunting for a boy from Canada.
Nevertheless, even though I do not speak Polish, that did not stop me this past weekend from giving it my best shot. I was invited to Poznań, Poland to give a couple of presentations at a Toastmasters Division Conference attended by 70 people from clubs all over Poland. The conference was in Polish and English with translation available.
My presentations were in English, but I was determined to say a few words in Polish at the outset. So prior to traveling, I prepared a short opening in English and had my friend Emilia translate it into Polish. I then practised my pronunciation, starting with Dzień dobry.
Here is the result:
Dzień dobry. Uważam, że dla rodzimych użytkowników języka angielskiego bardzo ważna jest nauka innych języków, dlatego też chciałbym zacząć moją wypowiedź mówiąc kilka słów po polsku.
Jest to moja pierwsza wizyta w Polsce i jestem zachwycony, że mogę tu być. Jeśli ten kraj jest choć w połowie tak miły jak Polacy, których spotkałem w ostatnich latach, to z pewnością musi być fantastyczny.
Z niecierpliwością czekam żeby poznać Was wszystkich lepiej jako członków klubu Toastmasters i jako kolegów.
And the translation:
Good afternoon. I think it is very important for English speakers to learn other languages, so I would like to begin by saying a few words in Polish.
This is my first time in Poland and I am delighted to be here. If the country is even half as nice as the Polish people whom I have met over the years, then it must be fantastic.
I look forward to getting to know you all better – as fellow Toastmasters and as friends.
The response was terrific. I received compliments on my pronunciation but am sure that I mangled many of the words. Nevertheless, the audience understood what I was saying and greatly appreciated the effort.
And therein lies the lesson in today’s post.
We live at a time when English is the lingua franca of the world. I firmly believe that native Anglophones have an obligation when traveling to learn at least a few basic words and phrases in the local language as a sign of common courtesy.
If you are fortunate enough to give a presentation to an audience where the majority of people speak a language other than English (or other than your own mother tongue), say a few words at the outset in the local language. Your efforts will be genuinely appreciated and you will build rapport with your audience from the outset.
Your opening need not be as long as mine was. I have a keen interest in foreign languages and love to try to push myself when it comes to learning them. But your introductory words could be as simple as “Hello, I am happy to be here” or even just “Hello”. There are plenty of free online language services where you can hear the words spoken, so a simple greeting is something that anyone can (and should) learn.
I cannot conclude this post without saying a few words about the Polish Toastmasters whom I met. They are warm and enthusiastic, and great public speakers. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Poland, I encourage you to attend a Toastmasters meeting. There are some English language clubs in Poland and many people in the Polish language clubs speak excellent English. They would be happy to guide you through a meeting.