Central and Eastern Europe, Education

Polish is the sixth biggest language in the EU counting the number of native speakers

Interview with Professor Sylvia Liseling-Nilsson

Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska: On September 23 your University: KU Leuven in Brussels opened officially a completely new Polish programme in Applied Language Studies. Why did it decide to start with Polish and how advantageous can it be for students to choose Polish?

Polish is the sixth biggest language in the EU counting the number of native speakers. It is also the sixth most popular language course taken in Belgium. Today Poland is a vibrant economy and has already experienced rapid political, social and demographic changes. Poland is a member of the NATO and the EU. A Pole, Donald Tusk, has become President of the European Council which stresses the importance of Polish even more.

The language is increasingly present in Brussels and fits well in the international character of the city, where Applied Linguistics in our campus plays a significant role. The knowledge of Polish can be used in translation of written texts but not only. The translator’s role is more and more challenged nowadays. From the traditional role as a translator of written texts we have now moved not only to conventional media like screen translation for TV (subtitling, dubbing, voice-over translation), cinema, video, interpreting for TV, but also new multimedia translation for example video games. Knowing Polish helps to study closely related West Slavic languages, Czech, Slovak, and Sorbian. You have a real advantage learning any other Slavic language like Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Bosnian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Croatian, and Slovene.

Some of these languages are today official European languages; some are on the way to be. Translators or interpreters working in the European structures need to regularly learn new languages. Many of them add languages which are related to those they already know. It is less complicated and faster. If you plan to work for EU institutions, knowing Polish will give you an easier way to add one or more Slavic languages to your collection.
Apart from translation and interpretation for EU institutions or media what was mentioned earlier, there are other places where Polish speakers are needed; it can be for court interpreting, in the defence, NATO or intelligence agencies. Frontex which has its seat in Warsaw is an agency of the EU that manages the cooperation between national border guards to secure the EU’s external borders, in order to prevent human trafficking, terrorist infiltration, and illegal immigration, the problem we are facing today. In the context of the current political situation in Poland’s neighbouring countries, like Ukraine or Russia, the importance of Polish is even stronger.

There is a need for news coverage where some of you might find a career as reporters or journalists.

With Polish you can go into working in Polish cultural institutions in Europe or even outside. Administration personnel who deal with any kind of exchange programs, there is a big demand for teachers of Polish or why not teachers of Dutch, English, French or German in Poland.

Poland is today an interesting trading partner. Many companies choose to settle in Poland or have branches there. Poles in these companies need to learn foreign languages. In recent years it has been an increase in trade between Poland and Belgium. Belgium is the 11th largest foreign investor in Poland with 59 Belgian companies registered there. Some Belgian companies have been present in Poland already since 20 years; Ghelamco, Solvay, Electrabel, Soudal, CFE, Bekaert, Fortis and KBC banks. New Belgian companies continue to settle in Poland. You can also stay at the university and do research on translations of prose for adults and children’s, translation of poetry, law texts, publicity or other kind of texts or multimodal translation.

What is the recipe for learning Polish?

Simply speaking Polish, not being afraid of making mistakes and you will see that soon you will be able to create beautiful Polish sentences.

Can you tell us about your very interesting multi-lingual and multi-cultural background?

It is a very long and complicated story. In short: I was born in Gdansk. My father is Polish, my mother was English, hence the spelling of my name with “v ” . The earliest childhood I spent in England. After returning to Poland, to Szczecin I did not know a word of Polish, but I quickly learned Polish, which is typical for children. I stopped to speak English with my mother. Upon completion of high school, I went to Sweden, where I quickly learned the new language. I graduated from the University and I received a scholarship for a year in the United States. Afterwards, I completed my Phd in Sweden. Now I got the job at KU Leuven in Brussels and have to learn another language, Dutch (I already know French a bit…)

©Communications-Unlimited.nl 2015

More information about the programme is available here:


See also:

  • A milestone for the Polish language: KU Leuven in Brussels a pioneer 


  • Interview with Prof. dr. Interview with Professor Remco Sleiderink


  • Video: Official opening of the Polish programme in Applied Language Studies at KU Leuven in Brussels, part one


  • Video: Official opening of the Polish programme in Applied Language Studies at KU Leuven in Brussels, part two 


  • Video: Impression: Official opening of the Polish programme in Applied Language Studies at KU Leuven in Brussels


Photos: Prof. dr. Liseling-Nilsson, Communications-Unlimited


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