How to Learn Polish Cases

Bună! Polish cases are a nightmare for many students. First of all, you need to learn the gender of a given noun. Then seven (six, really!) cases with endings for pronouns, adjectives and nouns. And then when you speak decide which case to use in a given context and which endings does this mean. This isn’t easy and initially takes a lot of mental space.

You may think it’s easy for me to say but I’m learning Russian so we’re in the same boat, my vriende. In today’s post I’ll share my tips about learning cases from my experience of teaching Polish as well as learning Russian.

How It’s Often Done and Why It Doesn’t Work

From my experience with working with both Polish learning books and Russian learning books, the general rule is to spoon feed the student with cases. They cover thematic expressions along with the requirements of the A1 and A2 level. You learn how to introduce yourself, talk about food vegetables, your hobbies, family, telling the time etc.

This approach has its merits and I’m not saying you should throw your book in the bin. You need vocabulary and you can’t (or shouldn’t) study grammar in a vacuum. Still, the problem with this approach is that you learn a lot of expressions in different cases without knowing why a given case is used. This becomes very confusing quickly and even the most disinterested student starts asking “Why?”. To which a teacher with their hands tied has to answer “You’ll learn soon.” Often it takes months or year before you learn the answer.

What’s more, these books initially give you a case only for singular nouns leaving adjectives and/or plural for much later. What’s the point of knowing a case if you can’t express yourself in such natural way as by adding an adjective to a noun or making it plural? Well, there’s not much point because students try to speak and you can’t tell them to just keep avoiding things you haven’t covered yet. Because you can’t do it, students try to say what they want to say and they make mistakes. When they’re corrected it adds to their frustration whether it’s rational or not. When they’re not corrected they hear themselves making a mistake and are more likely to make it next time. Quite a pickle, huh? Well, this is why I’ve come up with a way of learning cases that helps you avoid such traps and frustrations.

Learning Polish Cases for Mastery

If you’re following a standard course, you’ll have to do some additional work. Course teachers follow the program full stop. It doesn’t necessarily make them useless but you can’t count on them to reach a decent level. I’ve said it earlier and I’ll say it again: traditional methods of learning and teaching languages don’t work. You get people who spend hours and hours on language study and they can’t even have a simply conversation after that. You need to take charge not to become one of them. Enough of the PEP talk!

To learn cases you should study ALL of them early on. No waiting nonsense that causes more harm than good. Of course, if you simply learn all cases together they’ll turn into a big mess in you head so that’s not good either. What you should do instead, is study them in a structured manner by learning:

1) What the case is used for

2) How it affects the noun in the singular

3) How it affects the noun in the plural

4) How it affects the adjective in the singular

5) How it affects the adjective in the plural

6) How nouns and adjectives work together in the singular and plural

7) How it affects any other parts of speech

The most important part with each of these points is drilling. Most books don’t provide you with anything close to enough exercises for each of the above. You often get two or three of them to practice how a given case is formed and used. You’re not a computer to remember the code after it’s been inserted into your brain. You need repetition, repetition and one more time repetition.

Cases are best studied in isolation, by trying to form simple sentences first with nouns only, then with nouns and adjectives, eventually with nouns, adjectives and other parts of speech. It’s really made a massive difference for me with Russian.
You could decide to spend a month studying one case. That’s really not that much work but in 6 months you’ll be done with all cases. This will do miracles to the way you speak as forming cases will become more automatic. If you still make many mistakes, you should review what you’ve done. Repeat until you’re right 80% of the time.
Sorry, if this sounds boring but it’s also factual. You should find exercises online for specific cases or practice with a private tutor, letting them know what you want to work with in advance so that they can prepare a lesson.
Here are some places where you can find good and free practice for Polish cases:

Ok, Mein Schatz. That’s it for today. I need to do some works that actually helps me pay my bills. La revedere!

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