Eesti keel - kuidas ja milleks seda unikaalset keelt õppida?

How to learn Estonian and why do it at all?

Melodic, flowing and beautiful, the Estonian language is spoken by approximately one million people around the world as the mother tongue, and nearly 168,000 people have chosen to learn and speak Estonian among thousands other languages. (Source: Estonica – the encyclopaedia about Estonia)

But why start learning Estonian at all while so-called big languages are much more important?

Estonian is an unusual language

This relatively small language is the official language of and covers all the spheres of the organisation of social life in Estonia. Estonian is relevant across the entire country and is widely used, for example, in the following:

  • education;
  • science and research;
  • media;
  • government authorities;
  • local governments;
  • internet environment;
  • culture.

Locals say jokingly that fast and efficient internet connection is one of Estonians’ basic human rights. Mobile communication, ATMs, information systems, various software solutions and browsers operate in Estonian. The Estonian text processing tools, a number of dictionaries, reference books and text collections that can be found online are widely used by Estonians and learners of Estonian as a foreign language alike.

Diverse and evolving

Estonian love their language and make every effort for it to evolve and persevere. Our country has a nation-wide “new word competition”, which is one of its kind in the world, attracts broad participation and has yielded a great number of new words that have been taken into use.

The Estonian language is diverse: in the small area of the country, there have been eight dialects and 117 subdialects in use. There is also Estonian sign language, which is used by approximately 4500 people.  News in the sign language is broadcast during news TV shows, and there is a school for people who speak the sign language.

In addition, there are language-related awards as well as the celebration of Mother Tongue Day, and a lot is done to preserve the unity of the language, nation and state.

Why learn Estonian?

There are numerous good reasons to learn Estonian. Serious and reserved Estonians become more open faster when they hear a greeting in their mother tongue or a foreigner attempting to speak Estonian. Language is a bridge to good and respectful communication and integration.  It is not merely a communication tool; language is capable of evoking emotions and modifying behaviour.

It does not matter whether you have arrived in Estonia to live, work or study; whether you are planning to stay for a short or longer term: speaking Estonian will be of use in building  a career, finding friends, studying, applying for a residence permit and for many other reasons.

Language learning opportunities

Mastering LANGUAGE SKILLS IN Estonian, all its complexity and variations taken into account, is a proper challenge. Language schools, online lessons, books and digital media provide courses characterised by a variety of methods, durations and results.

To learn the language, you can take private lessons or join a group, try to become a university student or take part in one of the courses taught during summer or winter schools. The road from the beginner (A1) to the proficient (C2) level on the language learning scale is long, but “well begun is half done”.

The best way to learn the language is communication with locals in Estonian.

Listening carefully, memorising and repeating as well as immersion in the language environment promote the free, natural and everyday use of the language. It is important for the learner to have sufficient motivation, courage and necessity to communicate in the language so that new skills do not quickly fade away.

Settle in Estonia programme

The state provides a free curriculum for those arriving in Estonia to contribute to their faster adaptation and integration as well as smoother coping.

The programme contains a number of courses which give the participants an overview of the Estonian state, language and local life in general. In addition, it provides information to job seekers and university students and features a range of topics relevant for families.

Basic language course

The state provides a free Estonian language course at the beginner level (A1) for foreign nationals who have chosen Estonia as their permanent or temporary place of residence. For example, basic language training is available in the language training module within the programme Settle In Estonia.

Condition for taking part in the courses:

  • EU citizens have to register their place of residence with the local government, obtain an Estonian personal Id code and apply for an identification document with the Police and Border Guard Board.
  • Citizens of third countries have to file an application for a residence permit with the Police and Border Guard Board.

When issuing the ID or residence permit, the Police and Border Guard Board will supplement it with an invitation to take part in the courses, after which you can:

  • register for a language course on our website;
  • wait to receive the confirmation and further instructions about the course by e-mail;
  • got to the course, remembering to take your Estonian document (ID or residence permit) with you.

General description of the language training module provided

  • Duration: 80 hours, i.e., 2–2.5 months
  • Location: Tallinn, Tartu, Narva
  • Price: free
  • Learners will be actively participating in all the lessons, including exercises in pairs, teamwork and discussions.
  • A standard training day contains three of four lessons and takes place two times a week; the duration of the lesson is 45 minutes.
  • The course can be taken only once; if the period you have registered for proves to be unsuitable, you can change it before the course starts.

Please remember: if you speak the language of a major nation, you are one of the thousands, but if you speak the unusual language of a small nation, you are unique!

If you want to go on learning Estonian, a number of options is provided by the Integration Foundation.