Tackling the Estonian language as a foreigner – Merey (Kazakhstan)

Warning! You might end up learning the Estonian Language!

Photo Credit: Sten Hankewitz from estonianworld.com

Learning Estonian and committing to practice it certainly takes courage. Someone might even find parallels between learning this intricate, beautiful language and asking their crush out. It’s exciting, daring, and definitely requires determination!

As you most likely already know, Estonian is not the easiest language to pick up. In fact, it is deemed to be one of the hardest Latin alphabet languages in the world! A comic expression that speaking Estonian is a superpower is there for a reason.

Keep reading to find out how to unlock this special superpower!

Gif Credit: giphy.com

Why learn Estonian?

While English is quite well-spoken in Estonia, knowing even just a bit of the language will ensure that you gain maximum enjoyment from your stay in the country.

I could list many reasons for you to decide to study Estonian, but I believe everyone will have their own motivation to master this devilishly difficult language. Whether it be for a day-to-day grocery shopping at toidupood (Est. grocery store), deeper immersion in Estonian culture, or casual conversation with your Estonian sõber (Est.friend).

There’s no universal answer as to why learn this language. But to put it briefly, no one said it better than Nelson Mandela:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

Instead, I will give you some facts on what makes Estonian so unique and surprising:

· Estonian is a secretive language with only a bit more than a million native speakers. Estonian is unlike any other language you have ever come across, partially with the exception of Finnish, being the closest one and belonging to the same Finno-Ugric language group.

· Pronunciation in Estonian is somewhat tricky. Depending on how you pronounce the word, it might completely alter the meaning because vowels and consonants in Estonian can be short, long, and overly long. Take for instance words ‘lava‘ and ‘laava‘. Can you actually guess which one of them means ‘lava’ as in English? The answer is that ‘lava‘ in Estonian means ‘stage’ and ‘laava‘ stands for ‘lava’ as we usually picture it in our minds.

· Estonian is rather grammatically complex. There are 14 cases! Multiply it by the hours of practice it will take to master them all and it won’t seem that easy anymore.


I hope I didn’t scare you away from learning this wonderful language! Personally, I’m probably not more fluent in it than most of you at this moment, and still a far way even from making 10 minutes of natural conversation (unless I’m going to be the one listening all the time). Do not get discouraged, though! You’re on the right track, braveheart!

Gif Credit: giphy.com

So where do you start? It’s simple. Start now! You don’t have to purchase tons of books, download podcasts, save dozens of YouTube videos to watch later, or wait for the next semester to enroll in the university course for beginners. As corny as it might sound, you will be better off by starting now and taking another couple of minutes checking some essential words and phrases I collected for you below (listen to the approximate pronunciation in Google Translate).

Tere/Tervist! – Hello!
Tere hommikust! – Good morning!
Tere päevast! – Good afternoon!
Tere õhtust! – Good evening!
Ilusat päeva! – Have a nice day!
Nägemist/Head aega! – Good bye!
Näeme hiljem! – See you later!

Jah/Jaa – Yes
Ei – No
Äitah/Tänan – Thank you!
Vabandust – Sorry
Palun – Please

Minu nimi on … – My name is …
Ma õpin Tartu Ülikoolis – I study at the University of Tartu
Ma olen pärit … ( “country” + IST/ST or + LT (if the name ends with -AA)) – I come from …, e.g. Ma olen pärit Kasahstanist (I come from Kazakhstan); Ma olen pärit Saksamaalt (I come from Germany)

Kas te räägite inglise keelt? – Do you speak English?
Ma ei räägi eesti keelt – I don’t speak Estonian
Ma oskan inglise keelt – I speak English language
Ma ei saa aru – I don’t understand


Gif Credit: giphy.com

In case you seriously want to get equipped for this continuous, grueling battle, here are your trusty sidekicks:

  1. https://www.keeleklikk.ee/coursemap – This is the first and one of the best starting places to go for learning the basics of Estonian. The website offers 16 thematic units with thorough grammar lessons, video explanations, and more than hundreds of exercises for you to practice. By the end of the course, you will be able to speak Estonian at the A2 level.
  2. https://www.keeletee.ee/coursemap – This is a continuation of the aforementioned course that offers 13 more extensive lessons to help you upgrade your skills to the B1 level in Estonian.
  3. http://keeleveeb.ee – a huge compilation of Estonian bilingual, specialized, technical, and many more dictionaries to translate meanings of the words and check the examples of their usage.
  4. https://sonaveeb.ee – This online dictionary is a great tool for finding detailed definitions of the words in Estonian as well as for quick check on the different word forms to see how the endings change.
  5. https://glosbe.com – The website is good to look up examples of how certain words or phrases are used in a real-life context and different practical situations. This context dictionary supports a lot of other languages apart from English and Estonian.
  6. https://www.50languages.com/phrasebook/en/et/ – Another good place for beginners to learn expressions and useful words divided by topic. Every phrase is accompanied by the audio track on how to correctly pronounce it. Consider it one of the best places to learn the basics, if you are not planning to proceed with a full-on studying of the language.
  7. http://www11.edu.fi/retki_viroon/ – An interactive animation game for more advanced learners. The game lets you explore several big Estonian cities in detail, read short texts in Estonian, and play games to better grasp the material.
  8. https://cooljugator.com/ee – A perfect place to learn how to conjugate verbs in Estonian and expand your vocabulary!
  9. https://game.estonia.ee – An interesting pronunciation game, which records your voice and checks your pronunciation. It’s also good enough for exploring more words in Estonian to learn.
  10. Estonian language courses at the University of Tartu. Most of the courses are not usually available for complete online learning, but they are very comprehensive and practice-oriented. Taking one of the courses you can be sure that you will learn from your mistakes and apply your knowledge in use correctly.


  1. Try to talk to your Estonian friends in Estonian. Greet people in Estonian. Include some simple sentences in Estonian you can construct. Sprinkle a couple of simple words into your conversations every time you talk to a native speaker and don’t hesitate to ask them to correct you if they’re willing to help. And of course, practice in stores and wherever else possible.
  2. Write down unknown Estonian words, which you stumble upon, or translate them straightaway. You will see a lot of advertisement banners, signs, posters, product descriptions, restaurant menus, subtitles in the cinema, and even more in the Estonian language. Make sure to take a hold of these opportunities to enrich your vocabulary and learn it in context.
  3. Have fun! Make it interesting for you. Try new recipes written in the Estonian language. Listen to Estonian songs. Translate emails from your university newsletter. Read Estonian fairytales and myths. Simply enjoy the process of learning the language!
  4. Take it step-by-step. It’s not a sprint race and not even a marathon. Learning Estonian as well as any other language is like participating in an ultramarathon. It takes a lot of effort and everyone moves at their own pace, depending on their schedule, priorities, and goals. Make sure to make a slow, but steady and firm progress to avoid a quick burnout that comes with high expectations and pursue of instant results.


While some methods work well for some, they may not work for others. There are many different things you can try to learn Estonian. The most important thing is that you keep trying.

Gif Credit: giphy.com

Learning the Estonian language might not seem rewarding. It is, indeed, a challenging path. It’s like wading through thorns to the stars. The path will be rough from time to time, but with each step you’ve taken, it will feel more pleasantly gratifying every time to notice the progress you’ve made.

Besides, it’s the smallest token of appreciation and gratitude for what the marvelous country has in store for you.

Edu, head lugejad! (Good luck, dear readers)!

P. S. If you found this blog post helpful and discovered something new about the Estonian language, consider sharing it. Suur äitah! (Thank you very much!)