Polish is the largest representative of the Lechitic branch of Western Slavic languages. It is considered to have originated in the area of what is present-day Poland. It has roots in several local Western Slavic dialects, principally those which were spoken in Greater and Lesser Poland. It shares some vocabulary with languages of neighbouring Slavic nations, notably Slovak, Czech, Ukrainian and Belarusian. Although geographically separated, Polish also has some close relations with Serbian.
Polish was once a lingua franca in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, due to this historic significance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The language is spoken today by 37-38 million native speakers in Poland. It is commonly used as a second language in western Belarus and Ukraine, as well as in eastern Lithuania.
Various large episodes of mass-migration from Poland means many millions of Polish-speakers can be found worldwide. Large groups of Polish expatriates can be found in the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Australia, Brazil and Canada. It is estimated that there are over 50 million Polish-speakers worldwide.
Dialects and minority languages
Once you start getting some fluency in Polish, you might be surprised to find that Poland has around 7 distinct dialects in different regions of the country. ‘Standard’ Polish will be understood everywhere, but you will find it is spoken somewhat differently in different regions of the country. The differences are relatively slight and native speakers do not have problems with mutual comprehension.
Non-native speakers of Polish who are used to speakers from a particular region might have small problems in comprehension due to different pronunciation or the use of different vocabulary.
Foreign languages in Poland
Apart from studying Polish, it is obligatory for students in Poland to choose a first foreign language in either English, German or French. They may also have to take up a second foreign language choosing from English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch or a Scandinavian language.
Older Poles will almost certainly have studied Russian, so a good proportion of the population still has some capability in that language. Younger Poles will typically have some capability in English. German is also quite widely spoken, especially in regions bordering that country.