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Learn These Polish Words to Avoid Embarrassing Mistranslations

by Weronika Jurkiewicz
Tricky words in Polish

Memorizing new words is probably one of the most tedious processes in learning a language. This is why seeing a familiar looking word can spark a sigh of relief. However, this feeling of comfort might be quite short lived if the actual definition has very little to do with that in your native tongue. Those false friends are not just tricky to retain, but can have horrible consequences, something that President Jimmy Carter’s Polish interpreter learned the hard way, causing one of the most humiliating moments in US diplomatic history.

In order to help you avoid miscommunication and possible embarrassment, we compiled a list of frequently used Polish words whose translation differs from their English lookalikes.

Akademik translates to student dorm, not academic

Aktualnie translates to currently, not actually

Apartament translates to suite, not apartment

Audycja translates to broadcast, not audition

Bark translates to shoulder, not bark

Bat translates to whip, not bat

Brat translates to brother, not brat

But translates to shoe, not but

Data translates to date, not data

Dres translates to tracksuit, not dress

Dyrektor translates to manager, not director

Ekstra translates to great, not extra

Ewentualnie translates to possibly, not eventually

Fabryka translates to factory, not fabric 

Fart translates to luck, not fart

Fatalny translates to horrible, not fatal

Git translates to slang for “ok, sounds good”, not git

Hazard translates to gambling, not hazard

Hurt translates to wholesale, not hurt

Kask translates to helmet, not cask

Klucz translates to key, not clutch

Kat translates to executioner, not cat

Koncepcja translates to idea, concept, not conception

Koncern translates to large company, not concern

Lektura translates to reading, not lecture

List translates to letter, not list

Los translates to fate, not loss

Lunatyk translates to sleepwalker, not lunatic

Nerwowy translates to irritable, not nervous

No translates to yeah, not no

Ordynarny translates to rude, not ordinary

Patetyczny translates to pompous, not pathetic

Pensja translates to salary, not pension

Pij translates to drink, not pee

Plaster translates to band-aid, not plaster

Prezerwatywa translates to condom, not preservative

Recepta translates to prescription, not receipt

Resort translates to government department, not resort

Szef translates to boss, not chef

Sympatyczny translates to nice, not sympathetic

Transparent translates to banner, not transparent

Now, let’s put your knowledge to a little test! If you hear your Polish friend say “no to ekstra!” – are they expressing excitement or calling you out on being too much to handle? And how would you translate “fatalna koncepcja” and “sympatyczny szef” into English? 

We hope this list will help you navigate through some tricky Polish vocabulary. But know that it is perfectly normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed when starting to learn a new language. This is why we prepared some tips to help make the process smoother

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