Dzień dobry!

That’s “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.

Polish Coat of Arms
The Polish Coat of Arms

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.

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.

Dziękuję!

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.
Thank you!

The response was terrific. I received many 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.

For more information about Toastmasters in Poland, check out the links here and here.

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11 Replies to “Dzień dobry!”

  1. Hi John!
    It was great to have You at Toastmasters Conference in Poznań.
    You are totally right! This few sentence in polish at the beginning was great idea, it shows us, that You care, that this speech is really for us. We all appreciated that.
    Ancient Roman orators invented idea of ‘captatio benevolentiae’, which means to capture attention of listeners and the beginning and you did it very well.
    I enjoy very much your speeches; they really gave me many useful informations. Before your visit in Poland I saw only one your presentation – humorous speech “Pay attention” and I thought that you are a great entertainer.
    After your speeches in Poland and reading this blog now I know that You can do much more than only entertain – You can give us many precious tips and ‘know-how’ of public speaking.
    I really appreciate that, keep on doing that : )
    Best wishes,
    Andrzej

  2. Hello John,
    You are very right on this one. It is not about speaking it properly, it’s about showing your effort and that you care about the audience.
    The “capturing one’s audience” part from Andrzej’s reply (capturing one’s audience) is on the spot. I think that it does not apply to an audience of native speakers alone. Starting your speech in Mandarin (for example) or other languages other than English (with a little explanation of course) will certainly gain the attention of your audience. That’s my view anyway.

  3. Alternatively if you are a Pole living in or visiting London, make sure to visit Polish your Polish, a Polish speaking Toastmasters group in London! 🙂

  4. John
    Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve had the time of my life, due to the extreme weather conditions you brought Poland. Other than that, for a Toastmaster with my experience, learning that someone like you will visit us – hell, be in the same town, or even in the town nearby, or flying in the plane over my country – was enough to give me thrills.
    🙂
    Both Lars and you gave us a lot to think about, couple of reminders, some tools and a terrific two days learning experience.
    I honestly wish that
    – the event took more than two days
    – one day we can make an TM event good enough to make you come visit us because you want to. Darn, when uninvited. Unwanted even ;). Incognito, just to be there.
    And then we can warmly welcome you again and lesson to Your ‘Dzień dobry’ speech 🙂
    Greetings,
    Jerzy

    1. Jerzy, thanks so much for the kind words. In fact, the thrills were mine as it was very exciting to visit Poland for the first time and to see so many of my Polish Toastmaster friends in one place at the same time. It was a great experience all around and I too learned lots from everyone. I would be delighted to come back any time!
      A sincere thank you for having invited me.
      John
      PS – Sorry about the weather. I’ll try to do better the next time!

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