Peak Translations

What to expect from Polish to English translation and vice versa

“Knowing how to speak two languages is not the same thing as knowing how to translate. Translation is a special skill that professionals work hard to develop.” (Linguist, Arika Okrent)

Do you export to Poland? Do you require your website or manual translating from Polish to English or vice versa? Have you thought about what you need to consider when it comes to having these documents translated? Polish is widely renowned as being one of the hardest languages in the world to learn especially in terms of grammar. Polish is inna para kaloszy (a different pair of shoes) and translating the language also brings with it various challenges. The pointers below will shine a light on some of the things to expect from the translation side of things between the two languages:-


How many endings?

What do you get when you ask for more than one telephone? Simple in English, you get several telephones! However, this is not the case in Polish where one version of plural does not suffice! For instance, if you need a form to be translated from English into Polish and the form leaves a gap for the number required, it would be difficult to translate the word without knowing the quantity because it changes according to the amount. Another example comes in the form of a furry noun, a cat! The ending will change depending on the number of cats.

E.g. One cat/ Jeden kot, two cats/ dwa koty, six cats / sześć kotów

There is also a different word for cat depending on its sex, e.g. I have a (female) cat / ‘Mam kotkę’ or I have a (male) cat / mam kocura. In this instance, the translator would need to know the sex of the cat to provide the correct translation!

Wait until you meet the number two in Polish, there are an amazing 17 grammatical ways to say this number! Not only that, they are dependent on noun, adjective, and pronoun. This doesn’t even include the number of ways to say twice or second!

E.g.  dwa,  dwie,  dwoje,  dwóch (or dwu),  dwaj,  dwiema,  dwom (or dwóm),  dwoma,  dwojga,    dwojgu,  dwojgiem,  dwójka,  dwójki, dwójkę,  dwójką,  dwójce,  dwójko.

Szary i rudy kot obok siebie

Text length

As with many languages, length of text can vary quite a bit between each language. With regards to Polish and English, the former results in longer sentences, where the text can be as much as 20% to 30% longer. This can have a direct impact on the likes of marketing texts such as on websites, calls to action in sales driven texts, app store descriptions, interface texts or just simply increasing the number of pages in a brochure resulting in increased costs. It might be useful therefore to adapt the original source text before translation to ensure the translated text fits the allocated space and doesn’t cause issues with DTP. This works both ways because if the text were being translated from Polish into English, there is a likelihood that the length of the text would shrink, which in turn would mean there would be an empty space where text would have originally sat in the Polish.

If this option was not possible, it would be the job of the translator to be skilled in adapting the target text to fit the space, whilst at the same time ensuring that the original message is kept, as well as ensuring the target culture is represented in the translation. So if it was a Polish website for example, a native Polish translator specialising in creative, marketing and sales texts would be the most appropriate person to fulfil the needs of this kind of project. Not only would they have the skills to adapt the Polish text where necessary, they would also understand the target culture’s market. It would also definitely be worthwhile having the end result proofread in its app or website format to make sure that no words are missing and everything is as it should be.

It is also important to note that you cannot end a line of text in Polish with a one-letter word, so it is essential that any DTP being carried out should ‘polish’ up any of its text by ensuring that a one-letter word is moved to the following line!


Alphabet and punctuation

The alphabet is straightforward is it not; 26 letters and 5 vowels? Not so in Polish. The Polish alphabet may be Latin like the English alphabet, but it stands out from the crowd boasting 32 letters, 9 of which are extremely unique! And to confuse matters more, the Polish alphabet comprises several digraphs, CH, CZ, DZ, DŹ, DŻ, RZ, SZ making it harder to pronounce the words, with one  trigraph, DZI, thrown into the mix, as well as many diacritic signs Ą, Ć, Ę, Ł, Ń, Ó, Ś, Ź, Ż. Moreover, the English letters Q, V, X do not have a home within the Polish alphabet. This might create challenges for the translator if it were an advertising text where these letters play an important part of the slogan for instance.  Take advertising Schwarzkopf’s hair dye slogan, which used the letter ‘x’ to bring emphasis to its promotion of the product in its slogan “XTROVERT. XPLOSIVE. LOVE THE COLOUR. COLOR XXL.” (‘More’ Magazine). This would require a native Polish translator skilled in advertising translation to recreate the slogan in the same powerful way without using the letter ‘x’ that doesn’t exist!

Punctuation also differs between the two languages. Similar to French, the Polish language likes its space; using spaces before exclamation and question marks, colons and semicolons, after opening quotation marks and before closing quotation marks is common practice. This minor difference might appear to be inconsequential, however, just as with lengthier Polish text in the example above, it needs to be considered within text where space is tight. Double upper quotation marks also don’t exist in Polish and are shown in the following example, „ Jak masz na imię ? “ (What’s your name?). Therefore, if text had already been translated into Polish for example and it was decided that quotation marks were required for one reason or another as an extra aside, it would need to be localised to reflect the Polish rules.

age of magnifying glass highlighting culture and all words associated with culture

No direct equivalent = localisation

There are many words in Polish which are problematic to translate into English. So what can be done to overcome this barrier if a text includes these very locally cultural words, which have no parallel in English? What tools can the translator use to convey the local humour and cultural nuances? The text would require localisation, which in other words means adapting the text to the target country language and culture, choosing a word or phrase that will best fit within the context of the sentence and be understood by locals.

Take the very Polish word ‘Się’ for example. There is nothing in English that resembles this particular word. It basically refers to ‘self’ as in oneself, himself, herself, etc. It’s almost as if the word emphasises the person in the sentence who is the recipient of the action.  E.g. Ja nazywam się Madeline. This would be literally translated into English ‘I call myself Madeline’ but to sound English it would be ‘My name is Madeline’ as this is culturally correct. However, if you were to translate it back into Polish, you would need to add in the word się to emphasise that this is what you call yourself and likewise be culturally appropriate.

There are also many phrases that would sound nonsensical in English, e.g. Myśleć o niebieskich migdałach literally means to think of blue almonds. This does not convey the original Polish message, which basically means daydreamer and would often be expressed sarcastically by a Polish person. In order to convey this phrase in the way it is intended, the native English translator would need to adapt the phrase at the same time as maintaining the original meaning. Saying to someone that they are in their own little world would perhaps suggest the sarcastic way that this comment was said more than daydreamer, as this is an English phrase often said to someone with this kind of tone. At the end of the day however, sometimes there really is no easy way to express the same but funny and local style of the literal meaning and the real meaning at the same time. It might just have to take on a description rather than a translation, but that would be entirely up to the skill of the translator!

When all is said and done, it’s about understanding what your objective is when it comes to building that international relationship and how you can best achieve your goal through the written word.

By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, September 2018







 01663 732 074


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