• May 19, 2023
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Studying Polish studies after a Lithuanian school ? So about Lithuanians studying Polish philology

Is Polish difficult to learn? Do young Lithuanians want to learn Polish? These and several other questions were answered by Dr. Irena Fedorowicz from the Vilnius University Polish Studies Center and two young Lithuanians who once decided to start their adventure with Polish philology – student Jurinta Jackevičiūtė and currently director Kornelijus Stučkus.

Polish studies not only for Poles

— Polish Studies at Vilnius University were established over 30 years ago, in 1992. Their founder is prof. dr hab. Algis Kalėda. Since from the 1950s in Vilnius there were already another Polish studies, with a pedagogical direction, for graduates of Polish schools only, it was known that the new direction at the Faculty of Philology of the Vilnius University should have a different nature, i.e. it should educate not only future educators and  people who graduated from Polish schools. From the beginning, there were two separate curricula – Polish philology as native and as foreign. There was a lot of interest, because Poland was not only a close neighbor, but also a kind of window to Europe – graduating from Polish studies opened the possibility of going abroad and finding an attractive job – Dr. Irena Fedorowicz outlines the history of the field of study.

A program for teachers of other faculties who want to gain an additional specialization — teaching Polish language and literature — will soon be launched at Vilnius University | photo Marian Paluszkiewicz

Why Polish Studies?

— The stories of Lithuanians who decided to study Polish philology from scratch are very different – the interviewee notes. — First-year students sometimes chose Polish philology because … it seemed “exotic” to them, because they knew nothing about it. Some of them wanted to learn the language of their ancestors – grandparents and grandmothers. I remember a student from years ago, Agnė, who told me that for her, a Lithuanian, the most important family relic was a keepsake of her grandmother – a Polish prayer book. This student first studied history at our university, then switched to Polish philology, she was very happy that she could go under the Erasmus program to study at the University of Warsaw.

“The Polish language has always sounded very noble to me,” says Jurinta Jackevičiūtė | photo private archive

Lithuanian students of Polish philology

Meanwhile, Jurinta, a former student of Polish philology, when asked why she decided to learn Polish, states that her decision was influenced by her fascination with its sound layer.

-I had decided to study Polish philology because I wanted to learn about Polish culture. In 2017, I sang a lot in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. I was in love with Polish songs. The Polish language has always sounded very noble to me – a bit like French and Slavic in one. It was a kind of infatuation. The organist said that I had a talent for languages, because at that time I tried to sing without understanding the language, recalls the student.

“I like Polish cinema and literature. I wanted to be able to read and watch Polish films in the original language,” says director Kornelijus Stučkus | photo private archive

However, in the case of Kornelijus the interest in Polish cinema and literature influenced the choice of studies.

— I like Polish cinema and literature. I wanted to be able to read and watch Polish films in the original language. I like the old Polish film school, especially documentaries. I am a fan of artists such as Andrzej Żuławski and Paweł Łoziński. I also like some of Kawalerowicz’s films, explains Kornelijus.

He points out that the interest in Polish culture is by no means unique among Lithuanian youth. He states that he has  also observed similar literary and film tastes among his acquintances

—Currently, everyone around me reads Gombrowicz. I think it’s because there have been quite a few translations of his books into Lithuanian recently. They are also interested in Polish cinema and theatre. These interests often result from the fact that they are simply well-told stories. It’s easy to like films such as Corpus Christi or Pawlikowski’s works, says the young director.

Polish contemporary literature occupied a special place in the heart of Kornelijus.

— During my studies, I got to know Polish contemporary literature quite well. To this day I read Bruno Schulz, Witkiewicz, Myśliwski, Janusz Głowacki. Some works are permanently on my table, for example “Cinnamon Shops” by Schulz – our interlocutor lists.

Jurinta, on the other hand, recalls that obtaining her degree in Polish studies, she was most interested in learning about the linguistic layer of the Polish language.

— I liked the history of Polish grammar the most. I studied it when I was on Erasmus in Warsaw. I also have good memories of Polish phonetics and syntax classes, the interviewee shares.

(Not) difficult language

Is Polish difficult? The interlocutors had a slightly different opinion on the difficulties associated with the acquisition of the Polish language. According to Kornelijus, it is a difficult language to master for those who do not know other Slavic languages, such as Russian or Ukrainian. Jurinta, in turn, believes that the narrative about Polish as a very difficult language for Lithuanians is exaggerated. She points out that Polish in its grammatical layer does not differ from Lithuanian as much as languages ​​from more distant language families.

— In the second year of my studies, I attended Polish language classes at the Polish Institute. There was a Lithuanian group there and they were all very talented. I was impressed by their skills. Sometimes Poles say that their language is very difficult, simply because there are many sounds that are not found in Lithuanian. However, it is not difficult to master in comparison to French, German or Arabic, in which there are sounds that cannot be found in Lithuanian at all, the interviewee shares her observations.

Practical use of the Polish language in Lithuania

Kornelijus and Jurinta agree that the knowledge of the Polish language has practical use in Lithuania.

— I think it is a useful skill in Lithuania. First of all, because of good international relations between Poland and Lithuania. Translators are needed. There are not too many people who know Polish, and there is a shortage of good translators, says Jurinta.

The student reveals that she is particularly interested in increasing the level of teaching Polish in schools where it is taught as the mother tongue.

— I think that a better quality of Polish language lessons is needed in Polish schools, especially in towns where this language is most affected by the influence of the Belarusian language, notes the interviewee.

Jurinta says that the interest in learning Slavic languages ​​from scratch is quite rare among young Lithuanians nowadays. The student adds that she does not consider this a problem only of Slavic languages, but the lack of willingness of young people to connect their future with any language studies.

Decrease of interest in Polish philology

According to Dr. Irena Fedorowicz, the main reasons for the decline in interest in Polish philology are coonected with the much better earning prospects, which are associated with learning Western European languages.

— The interest in Polish studies decreased significantly after Lithuania’s accession to the European Union, when new, very attractive opportunities for educating young people from Lithuania appeared in the best European universities. At that time, new fields of study were created at the Faculty of Philology, interest in English and Scandinavian languages ​​increased. There is a belief that the knowledge of these languages ​​opens up more chances for young people to find an attractive job, explains Dr. Fedorowicz.

At the same time, the lecturer has positive feelings about the idea of ​​introducing Polish as one of the foreign languages ​​in Lithuanian schools.

— It is difficult to say what the interest will be on a national scale, I hope that in Vilnius or, for example, in the Kaunas region and in towns close to the Polish border, it will be significant. Certainly, at the beginning, it will not be easy to find teachers of Polish everywhere. But I think it’s only a matter of time. Our university will soon launch a program for teachers of other faculties who want to acquire an additional specialization – teaching Polish language and literature – says Irena Fedorowicz.

Translated by Aleksandra Bukhovets within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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