Which Languages Are Spoken In Poland? (Not Just Polish)

  • Johann Brennan
    Written byJohann Brennan
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Which Languages Are Spoken In Poland? (Not Just Polish)

What languages are spoken in Poland today?

The main language spoken by people in Poland is Polish (its official language), but you may also encounter many other languages there.

While Poland’s a landlocked country in Central Europe, it borders seven other countries and has had waves of migration in recent decades from all over the world.

The population of Poland is estimated to be over 38 million people, and the vast majority (86% of the population), identify as Polish citizens.

Official language: Polish

The Polish language is one of Poland’s official languages and is spoken by 98% of the population.

The language is closely related to Czech, Slovak, and Slovene (Slovenian), and to a lesser extent Ukrainian and Serbian (descendants of Old Slavic).

The Polish language is part of the West Slavic subgroup of the Indo-European language family and is what’s called a Lechitic language.

From the 14th century onward, Polish began to resemble what it is today.

The pronunciation of consonants have evolved greatly over time (especially fricatives).

Main languages in Poland

Many languages are spoken in Poland.

The list below gives a summary and estimated number of speakers of these languages.

  • Polish (37,815,600 speakers)
  • German (96,000 speakers)
  • English (103,541 speakers)
  • Russian (20,000 speakers)
  • Kashubian (108 000 speakers, mostly in the north-western part of the country)
  • Ukrainian (24,539 speakers)
  • Lithuanian (6,000 speakers)
  • Hungarian ( 3,500 speakers)
  • Silesian (529,377 speakers)
  • French (10,677 speakers)
  • Romany (14,468 speakers)
  • Belarusian (26,448 speakers)
  • Italian (10,295 speakers)
  • Rusyn (6,279 speakers)
  • Vietnamese (3,360 speakers)

German

Nearly 90% of Germans living in Poland speak fluent German, and 59% speak it as their first language.

They’re often seen on the streets in big cities like Łódź and Wrocław, especially because they tend to be well-educated professionals, and their children attend schools there.

Polish and German children are taught in parallel classes.

English

The language most often heard on the streets and by youths in particular is English.

The number of people living in Poland who speak English at home is estimated to be over 100,000.

Many schools in big cities like Łódź and Wrocław teach children English as their first foreign language and a lot of English-speaking young people get around using signs written in both Polish and English.

Russian

During the last part of the 19th century, over a million people were living in what was then the Russian Empire and today’s Ukraine.

They fled from Poland and settled in other parts of Europe.

Thus, a significant minority group in Poland speaks Russian at home (around 20,000) which constitutes about 0.05% of Polish citizens.

Many of these people came to Poland after World War II and for a time, Poland was also a satellite state for the USSR.

Kashubian

Close to 108,000 people living in Poland speak the Kashubian language.

Their ancestors were invited there by the country’s rulers in the early 17th century.

The Kashubians were considered a part of Polish society, but eventually, they adopted their language and affinity for Germany.

These changes occurred in an environment of forced Germanization that lasted from 1915-1918, at the beginning of World War I.

As a consequence, very few Kashubians remained true to their roots.

Ukrainian

Ukrainians make up one of the largest minority groups in Poland.

Over 460,000 people live on the territory of Poland (this number may have substantially increased due to the recent war between Ukraine and Russia). Approximately 24,539 speak Ukrainian as their native language.

Other Ukrainians living there can speak both Polish and Ukrainian.

Most people belonging to this minority group arrived during the Polish-Ukrainian wars, during which Ukraine tried to become independent from Poland.

Lithuanian

Around 6,000 people living in today’s Lithuania speak Lithuanian.

Their ancestors were a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th century.

After the unsuccessful uprising by the Lithuanian noblemen, the Lithuanians fled to Poland and began calling their own country the Republic of Cracow (Polish - Rzeczpospolita Cracovia).

When Poland regained its independence in the early 18th century, the Lithuanians started returning to their country.

After the partitions of Poland, a large part of Lithuania was incorporated into Russia, and some were also given to Poland.

The new Polish government sought to include this population in their country.

At first, it wasn’t easy because many Lithuanians were unwilling to be subjects of someone else’s government.

However, in the second half of the 19th century, the Lithuanian language finally became a part of the Polish education system.

Hungarian

Around 3,500 people living in Poland speak Hungarian as their native language.

The Hungarians were invited there by the country’s rulers at the time.

Their mission was to protect Poland from attacks by the Tatars and Turks.

They were invited by Jadwiga, one of the most important rulers in Polish history and a woman.

The latter saved her country and contributed greatly to its economic growth.

Silesian

Around 529 377 people living in Poland speak the Silesian language.

The Silesians are descendants of the German settlers who lived in the Silesia region for many centuries.

The area was divided between Poland and Germany in 1742 at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.

The Polish government sought to encourage immigration from their neighbors and invited people from other parts of Germany as well - they were given generous land grants.

French

Other people living in Poland speak French (approx. 10,677 people).

There’s a big community in the western region of Lublin, where many of them have French ancestry and speak a southeastern variant of French.

There are also French-speaking communities in Kraków, Łódź, and Poznań.

During the partitions, many Poles changed the French name ‘Poland’ to its current form ‘Polska’.

Romany

Romany (also known as Romani) is a language of the Indo-Aryan languages family spoken by Gypsies.

It was introduced in Poland with the arrival of Gypsies from India and the Middle East.

About 14,468 people are living in Poland who speak Romany at home.

Belarusian

There are only about 26,448 Belarusian speakers worldwide, and many of them live in Poland.

It’s one of Poland’s official languages.

It uses the Cyrillic alphabet and is closely related to Ukrainian and Russian.

Italian

There’s also a small community living in the south of Poland who speak Italian at home.

Most of them are descendants of immigrants from Veneto and Lombardy.

The Italians, who migrated to Poland at the turn of the 20th century, lived in villages where they worked on farms.

They lived there for generations and never lost their native language. It’s also used at home by their descendants to this day.

Approximately 10,295 people in Poland speak Italian.

Rusyn

Rusyn, also known as Ruthenian, is another language closely related to Ukrainian and Russian.

A small group of Rusyn speakers lives in the northeast region of Poland.

There are a few Rusyn speakers in Poland (about 6,279), mostly living in the country’s northeastern region.

Their language is closely related to Ukrainian and Belarusian and uses the Cyrillic alphabet.

Vietnamese

There’s a small community of people in Poland who can speak Vietnamese.

After the collapse of the Iron Curtain, many Vietnamese refugees came to the country for work.

Native speakers formerly employed as Polish translators have stayed on in Poland.

There are also young people studying at Polish universities who live on campus and speak Vietnamese at home with other students from their country.

The number of people who can speak Vietnamese in Poland is around 3,360.

Other minority languages spoken in Poland

Apart from these, there are many other minority languages spoken today in Poland.

There’s are quite a lot, but I’ll list some of the most common (in no particular order):

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

These languages are spoken by immigrant communities residing in Poland and their children.

Second/foreign languages spoken in Poland

The three dominant second or foreign languages spoken in Poland are English, German and Russian.

English

English is arguably one of the world’s most popular languages and an official language in Poland for international relations. Most Poles have at least a minimal level of functional literacy (to use the Internet and so on).

German

German’s the fourth most spoken language in the world and it’s very commonly spoken or understood among Poles (close to 20% of the population), given Germany’s close proximity to Poland and their history.

There are also many popular Polish words borrowed from German.

Russian

Russians and Poles have a lot in common culturally and a lot of recent history (e.g. Soviet Union).

A lot of Poles today (more than a quarter of the population) still speak and understand Russian.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
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