The official language of Poland is Polish.
Foreign visitors should be aware that virtually all official information will usually be in Polish only. Street signs, directions, information signs, etc. are routinely only in Polish, as are schedules and announcements at train and bus stations (airports and a few major train stations seem to be an exception to this). When it comes to information signs in museums, churches, etc., signs in multiple languages are typically found only in popular tourist destinations.
Most of the young people and teenagers know English well enough. Since English is taught from a very young age (some start as early as 4 years old), only Poles who grow up in isolated towns or communities will not be given English lessons. Older Poles, particularly in rural regions, will speak little or no English at all. However, it is highly possible that they will speak either French, German or Russian, taught in schools as the main foreign languages until the 1990s.
It is wise to refrain from speaking Russian on account of the countries' historically turbulent relations. In spite of this, German is still taught in many schools throughout the country, and is especially popular in the Western districts. Ukrainian also has many similarities to Polish.
A few phrases go a long way in Poland. Contrary to some other tourist destinations, where natives scoff at how bad a foreigner's use of the native language is, Polish people generally love the few foreigners who learn Polish or at least try to, even if it is only a few phrases. Younger Poles will also jump at the chance to practice their English. Be advised that if you are heard speaking English in a public setting outside of the main cities and tourist areas people may listen in to practice their understanding of English.
Do your homework and try to learn how to pronounce the names of places. Polish has a very regular pronunciation, so this should be no problem. Although there are a few sounds unknown to most English speakers, mastering every phoneme is not required to achieve intelligibility; catching the spirit is more important.
Poland's recent history has made it a very homogeneous society today, in stark contrast to its long history of ethno-religious diversity; almost 99% of the population today is ethnic Polish; before World War II, it was only 69% with large minorities, mainly Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Germans and less than two-thirds Roman Catholic with large Orthodox and Protestant minorities as well.
Poland also had the largest Jewish community in Europe: estimated variously at 10% to 30% of Poland's population at the time. Outside of the very touristy areas of the major cities, you'll find that there are few, if any, foreigners. Most of the immigrants in Poland (in the main Ukrainians and Vietnamese) stay in the major cities for work. Poland's small group of contemporary ethnic minorities, Germans, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Silesians and Kashubians all speak Polish and few regional dialects remain except in the south and in small patches of the Baltic coast.
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