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Estonian Language

Important, History, and Usefulness

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Estonian Language on a Shop Sign

Estonian Language on a Shop Sign

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Estonian language is unlike the languages of the other two Baltic countries, Latvia (Latvian language) and Lithuania (Lithuanian language), because it isn’t a Baltic language at all. Neither is it a Slavic language like Russian language. It is a Finno-Ugric language that shares more commonalities with Finnish and Hungarian than languages spoken in neighboring countries. Estonian is the official language of Estonia, though Russian and English are also widely spoken there, especially in Old Town Tallinn, which draws tourists from many parts of the world. Estonian is spoken by about 1 million people worldwide.

Estonian language uses the Latin alphabet with the addition of a few extra letters. Dipthongs are a prevalent aspect of Estonian language, and series of vowels can overwhelm consonants in common words. Stress usually falls on the first syllable of a word. Estonian has borrowed many words from the Germanic languages, which means that some words’ meanings may be intuited by those wishing to learn Estonian language. Additionally, Estonian is governed by an impressive 14 cases, which may seem intimidating to students at first. However, as familiarity with Estonian grows, ending for case changes should become quickly familiar to learners.

Estonian Language History

Estonian language has a strong oral tradition, and the first book in Estonian language was published in the early 16th century in response to the Reformation. From that point on, the focus on Estonian language cultivation grew, and by the mid-19th century, Estonia had one of Europe’s highest rates of literacy. Estonians placed a high premium on language, literacy, and education, as well as media communication as it was achieving nationhood. Estonian language is a strong element to national identity; Estonia even celebrates Mother Tongue Day on March 14th, the birthday of the founder of modern Estonian poetry.

Estonian continues to be developed and protected by interested parties in Estonia. Government offices check legislative language with respect to Estonian traditions and rules as well as promote knowledge about Estonian language and create language policies.

Learning Estonian

Those who want to learn Estonian language will find various location-based and internet-based resources at their disposal. Of course, the best way to learn any language is to visit a country and become immersed in the culture. Both universities and language institutes in Estonia offer language courses (summer courses, semester courses, or extended courses) for students who wish to improve their knowledge of Estonian while interacting with locals.

Though not as common as more widely spoken languages, Estonian is also offered by some United States universities, such as the University of Indiana. For students of Estonian who wish to learn on their own or via online communities, a simple search of “learn Estonian” will bring up results that suit a variety of learning styles, budgets, and other preferences.

Though Estonian isn’t widely spoken outside of Estonia and Estonian-speaking communities in other countries, this language with its emphasis on vowel sounds is musical to the ear and enjoyable to both speak and hear. Additionally, travelers to Estonia who have managed to pick up words and phrases of Estonian will impress their hosts and find getting around a bit easier than those who do not speak Estonian. Estonian can also be useful when traveling to parts of Estonia that tourists rarely visit, when researching family history, or conducting academic research. Students of Finnish language will also be happy to learn that Estonian and Finnish are so close that Estonians and Finns can understand one another, making either language a jumping-off point for learning the other.

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