Key:Polish pronunciation respelling

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As can be expected in an English-language blog about the history of (mostly) Polish cuisine, you may come across a fair number of Polish words and names here. The Polish language is notoriously tricky for native English speakers to pronounce, which is why I provide pronunciation respelling for some of the Polish words.

The respelling scheme I use is a kind of compromise: it's as close to actual Polish pronunciation as you can get while using only those sounds that exist in English. In some cases, two sounds that are distinct to Polish speakers are approximated by the same English sound. The goal here isn't to make you sound like a native Polish speaker; it's just to help you not butcher Polish words beyond recognition. It's meant to be as intuitive to English speakers as possible, but here's an explanation of the symbols anyway.


All Polish vowels, stressed or not, are of uniform length, with no long vowels or schwas (technically, Polish does have a handful of nasal diphthongs, but we'll ignore those for simplicity). Some of them sound similar to long vowels in English, but are pronounced shorter.

Respelling English sound How it's typically written in Polish IPA
ah as in balm, only shorter a [ a ]
aw as in bought, only shorter o [ ɔ ]
e, eh as in bet e [ ɛ ]
ee as in beet, only shorter i [ i ]
eye, ie, i-e as in bite aj [ aj ]
i, ih as in bit or nation y [ ɨ ]
oy as in boy oj [ ɔj ]
oo as in boot, only shorter ó, u [ u ]
wye as the name of the letter Y łaj [ waj ]


Most Polish consonants are quite easy to pronounce on their own. The trouble is that they tend to cluster in ways in which they never do in English.

Let's take wstrząs (meaning "shock"), for example. It may look like a mouthful and I'm not going to lie to you: it is one. In our respelling scheme, it becomes f s t sh aw n s, which is still rather daunting. It may help to insert very short uh sounds in between the consonants, as in fuh·suh·tuh·shawns. But keep in mind that, ideally, this should be pronounced as only one syllable.

Respelling English sound How it's typically written in Polish IPA
b as in bob b [ b ]
ch, tch as in church cz [ t͡ʂ ]
ci, ć [ t͡ɕ ]
d as in dad d [ d̪ ]
dz as in dads dz [ d͡z ]
dzh as in how the French pronounce budget drz [ d̪ʐ ]
f as in foe f [ f ]
g, gh as in gag g [ ɡ ]
H as in how Scots pronounce loch; if you can't pronounce it, then the h in how is close enough ch, h [ x ]
j as in judge [ d͡ʐ ]
dzi, dź [ d͡ʑ ]
k as in skunk k [ k ]
l as in lolly l [ l ]
m as in mom m [ m ]
n as in nun n [ n̪ ]
ni, ń [ ɲ ]
ng as in long ąg, ąk, ęg, ęk, ng, nk [ ŋ ]
p as in spy p [ p ]
R as in how Americans pronounce better or how Scots pronounce sorry r [ ɾ, r ]
s, ss as in sauce s [ s ]
sh as in shush sz [ ʂ ]
si, ś [ ɕ ]
shch as in pushchair szcz [ ʂt͡ʂ ]
ści, ść [ ɕt͡ɕ ]
t as stay t [ t̪ ]
tch see ch
ts as in dots c [ t͡s ]
tsh as in hotshot trz [ t̪ ʂ ]
v as in vie w [ v ]
W as in wow ł, u [ w ]
y as in yay i, j [ j ]
z as in zoo z [ z ]
zh as in measure rz, ż [ ʐ ]
zi, ź [ ʑ ]

Syllables and stress

Syllables are separated with dots (·). The stressed syllable (virtually always the last but one in a word) is underlined.


See if it gets any easier. If you want to listen to how these examples should be pronounced, then click here and then on the speaker button on the right.

  • baba czekoladowa (chocolate Bundt cake)
    • pronounced: bah·bah  cheh·kaw·lah·daw·vah
  • groch z kapustą (cabbage with peas)
    • pronounced: gRawH  skah·pooss·tawm
  • ciasto rabarbarowe (rhubarb cake)
    • pronounced: chahss·taw  Rah·bahR·bah·Raw·veh
  • piwo z sokiem malinowym (beer with raspberry syrup)
    • pronounced: pee·vawss  saw·kyem  mah·lee·naw·vim
  • wódka żołądkowa gorzka (bitter herbal vodka)
    • pronounced: voot·kah  zhaw·Wawnt·kaw·vah  gawsh·kah
  • świąteczny barszcz z uszkami (Christmas borscht with small dumplings)
    • pronounced: shfyawn·tetch·nih  baRshch  zoosh·kah·mee
  • chleb pszenno-żytni (wheat-and-rye bread)
    • pronounced: Hlep  pshen·naw·zhit·nee
  • ćwikła z chrzanem (beet-and-horseradish relish)
    • pronounced: chfee·kWahss  H sh ah·nem
  • źdźbło żubrówki (a blade of bison grass)
    • pronounced: zh j b W aw  zhoob·Roof·kee

And finally, the best-known Polish tongue twister:

  • W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie (In [the town of] Szczebrzeszyn, a beetle is buzzing in the reed)
    • pronounced: f sh ch eh·b zh eh·shih·nyeh  H sh awn sh ch  b zh mee  f t sh ch ee·nyeh