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The Official Languages of Poland

Posted by Chloe G. on February 15, 2024.

Situated in East-Central Europe, Poland boasts a population exceeding 38 million. Renowned for its rich multicultural heritage, the nation harbors diverse ethnic communities that persist to this day. Despite this variety, Poland stands out for its unparalleled linguistic uniformity in Europe, with Polish as its principal and official language. A staggering 97% of the population, equating to more than 38 million individuals, speak Polish as their native tongue within the country’s borders. Let’s find out the official languages of Poland in this post.

The Official Languages of Poland: Polish

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Polish serves as one of Poland’s official languages and is utilized by 98% of its populace. This language shares close linguistic ties with Czech, Slovak, Slovene (Slovenian), and, to a lesser extent, Ukrainian and Serbian, all descendants of Old Slavic.

Belonging to the West Slavic subgroup within the vast Indo-European language family, Polish is classified as a Lechitic language. Over centuries, from the 14th century onwards, Polish has gradually developed into its present form. Pronunciations, particularly of consonants, have undergone significant evolution over time, with fricatives experiencing notable changes.

 

Main languages in Poland

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Numerous languages are spoken in Poland, with the following list providing a brief overview along with estimated speaker numbers.

German:

Approximately 90% of Germans residing in Poland are fluent in German, with 59% considering it their primary language. Frequently encountered in urban centers such as Łódź and Wrocław, they are typically well-educated professionals, and their children often attend local schools. Polish and German children commonly share parallel educational tracks.

English:

English predominates on the streets, particularly among the youth demographic. Over 100,000 residents in Poland use English as their primary language at home. Many schools in major cities like Łódź and Wrocław prioritize English as the initial foreign language taught, and numerous English-speaking young individuals navigate with the aid of bilingual signage in Polish and English.

Russian:

Towards the latter part of the 19th century, over a million individuals resided within the borders of what was then the Russian Empire, including present-day Ukraine. Many fled from Poland and resettled across various regions of Europe. Consequently, a notable minority within Poland speaks Russian at home, estimated to be around 20,000 individuals, comprising approximately 0.05% of the Polish population. A considerable portion of these migrants arrived in Poland following World War II, during a period when Poland was a satellite state of the USSR.

Kashubian:

Approximately 108,000 individuals residing in Poland are speakers of the Kashubian language. Their forebears were invited to settle in the country by its rulers during the early 17th century. Initially integrated into Polish society, the Kashubians gradually developed their distinct language and cultural affinity with Germany. These transformations occurred amid a period of enforced Germanization from 1915 to 1918, coinciding with the onset of World War I. Consequently, only a small minority of Kashubians maintained their original cultural heritage.

Ukrainian:

Ukrainians constitute one of the largest minority communities in Poland. Presently, over 460,000 individuals reside within Polish territory, with an expected increase in this number due to recent conflicts between Ukraine and Russia. Among them, approximately 24,539 individuals speak Ukrainian as their mother tongue. Many members of this minority are bilingual, and proficient in both Polish and Ukrainian. The majority of Ukrainian immigrants arrived during the Polish-Ukrainian conflicts, during which Ukraine sought independence from Poland.

Lithuanian:

An estimated 6,000 individuals in present-day Lithuania are speakers of Lithuanian. Their ancestry traces back to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania during the 14th century. Following an unsuccessful uprising by Lithuanian nobles, many Lithuanians sought refuge in Poland, temporarily identifying their homeland as the Republic of Cracow (Rzeczpospolita Cracovia). With Poland regaining independence in the early 18th century, Lithuanians began returning to their native land. However, after Poland’s partitions, significant portions of Lithuania fell under Russian and Polish control. The Polish government endeavored to integrate this population into the nation, initially facing resistance from many Lithuanians. Nevertheless, by the latter half of the 19th century, the Lithuanian language and culture were gradually incorporated into the Polish education system.

Hungarian:

Approximately 3,500 individuals residing in Poland are native speakers of Hungarian. They were originally invited by Poland’s rulers to safeguard the country against incursions by the Tatars and Turks. Notably, this invitation was extended by Jadwiga, a prominent figure in Polish history and a woman of significant influence. Jadwiga’s actions contributed significantly to Poland’s defense and economic prosperity.

Silesian:

Approximately 529,377 individuals residing in Poland speak the Silesian language, tracing their heritage back to German settlers who inhabited the Silesia region for centuries. Following the division of the area between Poland and Germany in 1742, after the War of the Austrian Succession, the Polish government actively encouraged immigration from neighboring regions, extending generous land grants to newcomers.

French:

Around 10,677 individuals in Poland speak French, with a significant community located in the western region of Lublin. Many of these individuals possess French ancestry and speak a southeastern variant of the language. Additionally, French-speaking communities exist in Kraków, Łódź, and Poznań. During periods of partition, many Poles transitioned the French name “Poland” to its current Polish form, “Polska.”

Romany:

Romany, also known as Romani, is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by Gypsies, introduced to Poland with the arrival of Gypsy communities from India and the Middle East. Roughly 14,468 individuals in Poland speak Romany at home.

Belarusian:

There are approximately 26,448 speakers of Belarusian worldwide, with a notable portion residing in Poland. Belarusian is recognized as one of Poland’s official languages, employing the Cyrillic alphabet and sharing close linguistic ties with Ukrainian and Russian.

Italian:

A small Italian-speaking community resides in southern Poland, primarily composed of descendants of immigrants from Veneto and Lombardy who migrated to the region at the turn of the 20th century. These Italians settled in rural villages, where they engaged in agricultural work for generations, maintaining their native language throughout. Presently, approximately 10,295 individuals in Poland speak Italian.

Rusyn:

Rusyn, also referred to as Ruthenian, shares close linguistic ties with Ukrainian and Russian. A small community of Rusyn speakers resides in northeastern Poland, totaling approximately 6,279 individuals. Their language, utilizing the Cyrillic alphabet, exhibits similarities with Ukrainian and Belarusian.

Vietnamese:

Poland is home to a modest Vietnamese-speaking community, established in the aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain when many Vietnamese refugees sought employment opportunities in the country. Some native Vietnamese speakers who initially worked as Polish translators have chosen to remain in Poland. Additionally, there are Vietnamese students studying at Polish universities who reside on campus and converse in Vietnamese with fellow compatriots. The estimated number of Vietnamese speakers in Poland stands at around 3,360 individuals.

Additional Minority Languages Spoken in Poland

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Beyond those mentioned, Poland hosts numerous other minority languages within its borders. Though there are several, here are some of the more prevalent ones (in no specific sequence):

  • Czech
  • Armenian
  • Hebrew
  • Slovak
  • Yiddish
  • Tatar
  • Karaim
  • Bulgarian
  • Greek
  • Flemish
  • Latvian

These languages are spoken by immigrant communities and their descendants who have settled in Poland.

 

The Official Languages of Poland: Foreign languages spoken in Poland

Among the second or foreign languages prevalent in Poland, three stand out prominently: English, German, and Russian.

English:

English holds a position as one of the world’s most widely spoken languages and serves as an official language in Poland for international communication. The majority of Poles possess at least basic functional proficiency in English, facilitating tasks such as internet usage.

German:

As the fourth most spoken language globally, German enjoys considerable popularity and comprehension among Poles, with nearly 20% of the population demonstrating proficiency. This prevalence is attributable to Germany’s geographical proximity to Poland and the intertwined history between the two nations. Additionally, numerous Polish words have been borrowed from the German language.

Russian:

Cultural similarities and shared history, including the era of the Soviet Union, have fostered a strong connection between Russians and Poles. Consequently, a significant portion of the Polish population, exceeding a quarter, still speaks and understands Russian today.

 

Unlocking Opportunities with our team

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The demand for Polish translations remains high, driven by the significant Polish diaspora worldwide and the language’s importance within the European Union. While Polish holds official status in Poland, its significance extends globally.

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