Should you even try to learn Estonian? I mean, it’s not a secret that Estonian is one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers. And truth be told, most Estonian youngsters speak English, meaning that you could get by without mastering complex Estonian phrases. Also, Estonian is natively spoken by only ∼ 1.1 million people, so why even bother?
Well, in my opinion if you’re here for a short while, then you shouldn’t sweat trying to becoming a fluent speaker, with flawless grammar skills. But don’t you think you should at least be able to know how to say “Hello” and “How are you” in Estonian?
Hello = tere
HOW ARE YOU? = KUIDAS LÄHEB?
On the other hand, if you’re in it for the long run, you’ll definitely benefit from being able to speak Estonian at a basic or intermediate level. It’s easier said than done, though… I know. But hang in there, I am sure you can do it!
I’ve been living in Estonia for two years now, and I hoped my Estonian skills would be a little more advanced than they are at the moment. Unfortunately, I didn’t dedicate enough time to study properly, but now I am motivated to give it a go.
Let’s check out some of the best methods for learning Estonian… at least in my view!
Estonian Language: Background
Estonian is closely related to Finnish and belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family. It has some common words with its nearest geographical neighbours (Swedish, Latvian, and Russian), but it is not related to these languages at all, in terms of origin. In fact, Estonian is one of the few European languages that is not of an Indo-European origin (such as the three languages mentioned above).
In the Estonian language, there are no genders (who said Estonian is difficult?), but we’ve “hit the jackpot” having to deal with 14 cases. Here’s a glorious list of them:
I’m not joking. There actually are 14 different cases in Estonian! But that’s because there are no prepositions (e.g. with, on, under, etc.); instead, you have to change the form of the words, depending on the context of your sentence. Let’s take an example.
“Beautiful book” translates to “ilus raamat” in Estonian. Now, if you’d like to say “with a beautiful book” you won’t add “with a” to “ilus raamat”. Instead you have to change the form of the adjective and noun -> “ilusa raamatuga” — Comitative case. “Without a book” would be “ilusa raamatuta“, and that’s the Abessive case.
Okay, my head hurts already, but don’t get discouraged; the devil is not so black as he is painted. If you’re still with me, let’s move on to figure out how to actually learn this language.
How to Learn Estonian?
We’ve established that Estonian is one of the most difficult languages out there. But who doesn’t like a challenge, hey?
Estonian Language Courses
The welcoming programme in Estonia is pretty cool, as it offers a beginner language training to prepare you for primary level conversations in Estonian. It promises to tackle topics such as polite expressions, numbers and the clock, food and beverages, arranging meetings and talking about your hobbies.
The benefit is that you have an actual teacher and you’re part of a group of expats trying to reach the same goal as you. It’s great for keeping you motivated, making some new friends and probably having lots of fun while learning Estonian. If you’re up for it, you can sign up for free to attended courses either in Tallinn or Tartu.
If you prefer online courses instead, I’ve got you covered! Here’s an interesting free Estonian language e-course. It has 16 chapters with 1200 exercises, 200 animations, and 100 grammar videos so it sounds pretty extensive. I haven’t tried it myself though, so if you check it out, let me know what you think of it!
Complete Estonian Book
Some time ago, I purchased a book called “Complete Estonian Beginner to Intermediate Course” meant to help beginners learn to read, write, and understand Estonian without the help of a teacher.
If you’re the “I-can-do-it-by-myself” type of person, I totally recommend this book. It really helped me get the basics of Estonian language skills covered. It teaches you grammar & punctuation, offers so many different types of exercises, as well as solutions (so that you can verify your answers, not cheat!) and it’s very well structured overall. It basically takes you from zero to hero, if you put in the effort.
You can get the paperback edition on Amazon, for 39.99 GBP. But if you hurry, you’ll get a 38% discount, so you’ll only pay 24.99 GBP.
Oh I’m hooked with this app! I’ve recently discovered it and I fell in love. Speakly is a fantastic learning language app, which you can download from the App Store or Google Play. It costs 99 EUR/year, but there’s no reason to panic. You can also get it for free, if you use the code #EV100! This tip should definitely be on my list of 100 reasons why I am grateful for Estonia.
use code #ev100 to learn estonian with speakly for free
After you create your profile, you can take a test which will evaluate your current level. Then you’ll have to solve various exercises to improve your knowledge by learning 15 new words daily. You can also participate in a variety of scenarios in the “Live Situations” tab, where you need to listen, understand and answer. The app allows you to track your progress and see how much you’ve improved since you started. It’s a 10/10!
Songs and Movies
Listening to Estonian songs or watching Estonian movies with English subtitles is another great way to learn the language. Personally, I’m a fan of Nublu and I particularly like the song “Mina ka”. Anyone else with me? If you don’t know what I’m talking, here you go:
Now, about the movies… I find it pretty difficult to find Estonian movies / TV series with English subtitles. I guess listening to the radio or watching Estonian TV could help, as well. But I really want something with subtitles. Any recommendations?
Practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes. And it couldn’t be more true!
Don’t be afraid to practice your Estonian skills in your everyday life. Try using your Estonian skills at the supermarket, when asking for directions, at the pharmacy, or anywhere you have the opportunity to do so. Talk to your Estonian friends at least for a couple of minutes every day and I’m sure you’ll see tremendous improvements.
I used to be afraid of making mistakes, so I refused speaking any Estonian at all. Now I realise how silly this is! You can’t master a new language, unless you practice all essential elements: speaking, writing and listening!
To conclude with, learning a new language isn’t easy; especially when we talk about such a difficult one! But be consistent, learn something new every day, and try to practice as much as possible. Without a doubt you’ll be speaking Estonian in no time!
Let me know if you have any tips and tricks for how to learn Estonian! Until then, I’ll leave you with a really funny video on “Estonian pronunciation”. Enjoy!