Estonian (eesti keel) is the official language of Estonia and is also the mother tongue of people of Estonian ancestry living in neighbouring countries (e.g. Latvia, Russia). Because of immigration during the 19th and 20th century, native Estonian speakers also live in Australia, Canada, England and the United States. The total number of native speakers is approximately 1 million.
Linguists classify Estonian as an Uralic language and linguistic relatives include Finnish, Hungarian, Northern Saami, and Selkup. Most such languages are spoken in northern Eurasia.
Despite their language not being Indo-European like the majority of languages in Europe, Estonians are deeply assimilated into the European millieu and most modern Estonians are physically indistinguishable from their neighbours speaking Germanic, Balto-Slavonic or other Uralic languages. The Uralic-speaking inhabitants of what is now modern Estonia were converted to Christianity during the 13th century and have been under Danish, German, Russian, or Swedish control until the 20th century.
Estonian is useful in Estonia and areas where Estonian is spoken (i.e. expatriate communities). As Estonian is rarely heard outside Estonia, many Estonians younger than 30 years of age speak at least some English or another foreign language (German and Finnish are popular; some Estonians speak Russian either because of their ties to Estonia’s Russian minority or as a legacy of Soviet control when instruction in Russian was mandatory).
Knowledge of Estonian would acquaint the learner with some features that are characteristic of Uralic (e.g. Hungarian, Southern Saami) and Altaic languages (e.g. Turkish, Mongolian). In particular, knowledge of Estonian would provide a definite advantage in learning other Balto-Finnic languages (a subgroup of the Uralic family) such as Finnish, Karelian or Veps. However, a prospective learner of Estonian should realize that learning Hungarian with an Estonian base is not as easy as learning German with an English base for example.
The modern standard language is based on standardization efforts that started in the 17th century. Linguists classify Estonian dialects as belonging either to a northern or southern group. In turn, the northern dialects are subdivided into four groups: Insular, Western, Central and Eastern. Classification within the southern dialects is somewhat less clear. Depending on the source, it includes either three or four subgroups: Tartu, Mulgi, Võro and Seto. Seto is sometimes considered to be a variant of Võro while Võro itself is sometimes classified as separate language instead of an Estonian dialect. Modern standard Estonian is based on the central group of the northern dialects. Today, the standard language is taught in all schools and colleges and this teaching has limited the problem of mutual unintelligibility among Estonians.
Learning with a background in other languages
According to FSI, it takes approximately 1100 class hours to achieve professional speaking and reading proficiency in Estonian. It follows from FSI’s scale that the degree of difficulty in learning Estonian for a monolingual speaker of English is roughly the same as that of Finnish, Georgian, Hungarian, Mongolian, Thai or Vietnamese.
Based on experience with Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian and Northern Saami, I consider Estonian to be more difficult to grasp than Finnish or Hungarian but less so than Northern Saami.
As suggested in the subsequent section on intelligibility, learners with a background in a Balto-Finnic language will find learning Estonian less onerous to various degrees depending on how similar their respective native languages are. A background in a typologically similar language (which need not be related) such as Meadow Mari, Hungarian, Turkish or Mongolian may be helpful but at a lower degree than prior knowledge of a Balto-Finnic language.
For native speakers of an Indo-European language such as me, these are features that I found which caused the most difficulty at the beginning:
- 1) Elaborate inflection using stems whose forms are often unpredictable
2) Treatment of a direct object or predicate
3) Unfamiliar vocabulary for speakers of most Indo-European languages (this problem is alleviated in varying degrees if one already knows another Uralic or Altaic language or is fluent in a Balto-Slavonic or Germanic language.)
Professor Helle Metslang of the University of Tartu has created a summary of the difficulties in learning Estonian for speakers of Finnish, German and Russian. See the subsection “Online material and links to information of interest” below for the URL of this paper.
Overview of grammar
Stress is often on the first syllable, but it is not as strong as in English or Russian. Estonian also differentiates between short, long and overlong sounds. There is also palatalization but this is not often expressed in writing. Intonation is used in distinguishing between interrogative and non-interrogative sentences.
Consonant gradation can occur when certain consonants end the stressed syllable of a word or root. The result of consonant gradation is a change in the quality or quantity of that consonant as inflectional processes occur. Moreover these processes may also set off changes to quality or length of the stem's vowel.
When expressing case relations, Estonian attaches suffixes to a stem (similar to Altaic and other Uralic languages). However, the stem to which one attaches these suffixes can vary. This means that in addition to knowing the basic form (i.e. nominative singular) of nouns and adjectives, one should also know the forms of these nouns and adjectives in the genitive singular, partitive singular and partitive plural. Each of these forms may or may not appear different from one another and the genitive singular and partitive singular forms cannot be easily deduced by looking at the nominative singular form. Most suffixes for cases in singular attach to the genitive singular form. To mark the genitive plural for a noun, one replaces the ending in the partitive singular form with a genitive plural suffix. Most cases in plural are built by attaching the relevant suffix to the form in the genitive plural. The partitive is complex and it can be marked by one of six endings for the singular, and five for the plural.
- auto (nominative singular) “a/the car”
- auto (genitive singular) “of a/the car”
- autot (partitive singular) “[part] of a/the car”
- autosid (partitive plural) “[part] of -/the cars”
- autod (nominative plural) “-/the cars” (attach suffix -d to form in the genitive singular auto)
- autos (inessive singular) “in a/the car” (attach suffix -s to form in the genitive singular auto)
- autode (genitive plural) “of -/the cars” (replace partitive singular suffix of -t in autot with genitive plural suffix of -de)
- autodes (innesive plural) “in -/the cars” (attach suffix -s to form in the genitive plural autode)
- tuba (nominative singular) “a/the room”
- toa (genitive singular) “of a/the room”
- tuba (partitive singular) “[part] of a/the room”
- tube (partitive plural) “[part] of -/the rooms”
- toad (nominative plural) “-/the rooms” (attach suffix -d to form in the genitive singular toad)
- toas (inessive singular) “in a/the room” (attach suffix -s to form in the genitive singular toa)
- tubade (genitive plural) “of -/the rooms” (attach suffix -de to partitive singular form tuba)
- tubades (inessive plural) “in -/the rooms” (attach suffix -s to form in the genitive plural tubade)
Estonian does not have grammatical gender but uses both prepositions and postpositions and 14 cases.
Estonian has four tenses (present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect), five moods (infinitive, indicative, conditional, imperative and oblique), two voices (active and passive) and two numbers (singular and plural). In addition, it does not have separate pronouns for “he” and “she”.
Of note for verbs:
1) Future activity is indicated by using the present tense. Future activity can be determined from the context of a sentence or can be clarified by using suitable adverbs.
- Ma tulen “I am coming”, “I come”, “I will come”
- Ma tulen homme “I am coming tomorrow”, “I come tomorrow”, “I will come tomorrow”
2) Conjugating verbs in negative differs from doing so in the affirmative.
- - Ma tulen “I am coming”, “I come”, “I will come”
- Nad tulevad “They are coming”, “They come”, “They will come”
- Ma ei tule “I am not coming”, “I do not come”, “I will not come”
- Nad ei tule “They are not coming”, “They do not come”, “They will not come”
3) The infinitive comes in two forms for every verb
- - Ta peab kirjutama “He/she has to write” (-ma infinitive)
- Ta tahab kirjutada “He/she wants to write” (-da infinitive)
As 3) illustrates, one usually needs to memorize two infinitives (a.k.a. -ma and -da infinitives), in addition to the present tense form for the 1st person singular and the passive perfect participle (a.k.a. -tud participle) since using verbs depends on adding suffixes to one of these verbal forms/bases. Gradation also has an effect on verbal morphology and can cause the different verbal forms to vary more than expected.
- - lugema (-ma infinitive of “read”); lugeda (-da infinitive of “read”); loen (“I read”); loetud (past participle of “read”)
- tulema (-ma infinitive of “come”); tulla (-da infinitive of “come”); tulen (“I come”); tuldud (past participle of “come”)
As the preceding discussion shows, Estonian morphology shows features of agglutinative and fusional languages. In agglutinative languages, each suffix often expresses only one unit of meaning. For example to express the nominative plural of a noun, one would attach a plural suffix to the basic form (usually nominative). If one wanted to express the accusative plural, one would attach two suffixes to the basic form - one suffix for the accusative, another for the plural. In fusional languages, the ending of a noun can change to express different case relations and that ending can express more than one unit of meaning. For example to express the nominative plural, one would change the ending of the noun. If one wanted to express the accusative plural, one would attach a different ending to the basic form. It would not be necessary to attach one ending for the plural, and then a second for the accusative as in an agglutinative language.
Word order is usually with verb in the second position but can vary as the use of suffixes or endings allows for some flexibility depending on what one wishes to emphasize. Adjectives precede the nouns that they modify, while adverbs of time precede adverbs of place.
Spelling is relatively phonemic but does not mark overlong sounds or palatalization. The alphabet is influenced by the German alphabet. Conventions that may be unfamiliar to speakers of English are:
- c pronounced like the ‘ts’ in “bits”
j pronounced like the ‘y’ in “yes”
š pronounced like the ‘sh’ in 'ship”
ž pronounced like the ‘s’ in “pleasure”
õ pronounced somewhat like ‘o’ in British pronunciation of “loan”
ä pronounced like the ‘a’ in “mat”
ö pronounced somewhat like ‘u’ in “fur”
ü pronounced like ‘u’ in French tu “you”
Estonian uses a two-way T-V distinction like many other European languages. To address one person politely or formally, one uses the 2nd person plural instead of the 2nd person singular. For addressing more than person, the 2nd person plural forms are used regardless of the level of formality or politeness. This usually also entails using formal titles and less casual ways to greet or draw attention depending on the environment.
Mutual intelligibility with other languages
Most English-speaking learners will find little in Estonian that is instantly familiar at the outset apart from most of the Estonian alphabet and the occasional internationalism (e.g. hotell, telefon, politsei).
Finnish shows the most similarity to Estonian when considering official languages. The lesser-known languages of Livonian and Votic are closer still. Speakers of Saamic languages will not find Estonian to be highly intelligible while speakers of Hungarian even less so. The occasional word in Estonian may be recognizable to speakers of Balto-Slavonic or Germanic languages because of the presence of loanwords from such languages but such words may not always be obvious to speakers of modern languages because of the divergence between the older forms and newer reflexes (e.g. proua "Mrs." cf. Frau (German)).
Here are some hints for non-Estonians that may help with grasping Estonian.
- 1) Estonian tends to use a generalized order of the main/auxillary verb in second position like German instead of a SVO order in declarative sentences like English.
"Tomorrow Anna goes to Tartu."
- Homme läheb Anna Tartusse. (Estonian)
- Morgen fährt Anna nach Dorpat. (German)
"I have bought a book."
- Ma olen raamatu ostnud. (Estonian)
- Ich habe ein Buch gekauft. (German)
2) Estonian treatment of the direct object is somewhat similar to that of Finnish where the direct object's declension depends on the verb's aspect, affirmativeness, the degree of involvement inherent in the action, or the degree to which the direct object is affected by the action.
"I'm drinking (some) beer."
- Ma joon õlut. (Estonian - õlut is partitive of õlu)
- Mä juon olutta. (Finnish - olutta is partitive of olut)
"I'll drink (up) a/the beer."
- Ma joon õlle (ära). (Estonian - õlle is genitive of õlu)
- Mä juon oluen. (Finnish - oluen is genitive of olut)
3) On a related note, Estonian and Finnish both account for telicity in predicates. That is to say that the partitive is used when referring to predicates that are of unspecified quantity or not totally affected by an action. Nominative or genitive is used otherwise.
"The child has [the] new toys."
- Lapsel on uued mänguasjad. (Estonian - uued mänguasjad is nomninative plural of uus mänguasi)
- Lapsellä on uudet lelut. (Finnish - uudet lelut is nominative plural of uusi lelu)
"The child has [some] new toys."
- Lapsel on uusi mänguasju. (Estonian - uusi mänguasju is partitive plural of uus mänguasi)
- Lapsellä on uusia leluja. (Finnish - uusia leluja is partitive plural of uusi lelu)
4) The apocope (i.e. dropping of final unstressed syllables) and assimilation of certain clusters over time in Estonian has made it more similar to colloquial Finnish which is distinguishable from standard Finnish with its apocope (in addition to syncope and assimilation).
"Is your car red?"
- Kas su auto on punane? (Estonian)
- Onks sun auto punane? (Colloquial Finnish)
- Onko autosi punainen? (Standard Finnish)
"Why will they give to me the letter?"
- Miks nad annavad mulle kirja? (Estonian)
- Miks ne antaa mulle kirjeen? (Colloquial Finnish)
- Miksi he antavat minulle kirjeen? (Standard Finnish)
5) Apocope has changed Estonian's presumably original agglutinative typology towards a more isolating or analytic type. Colloquial Finnish has also undergone some apocope and this has likewise led to a more isolating or analytical typology compared to standard Finnish. Mainfestations of the stronger isolation or analysis are a greater tendency to retain pronouns (i.e. less "pro-dropping") and replacement of possessive suffixes with possessive pronouns, thus leaving the possessed object without possessive endings.
"My friend worked in a bookstore."
- Mu sõbra töötas raamatupoes. (Estonian)
- Mun ystävä oli töissä kirjakaupas. (Colloquial Finnish)
- Ystäväni oli työssä kirjakaupassa. (Standard Finnish)
"Take your dog along!"
- Võta su koer kaasa! (Estonian)
- Ota sun koira mukaan! (Colloquial Finnish)
- Ota koirasi mukaan! (Standard Finnish)
"I'm reading a newspaper."
- Ma loen ajalehte. (Estonian)
- Mä luen sanomalehtee. (Colloquial Finnish)
- Luen sanomalehteä. (Standard Finnish)
6) As in Finnish, a nominal possessor in Estonian that is not marked as a possessive pronoun bears a marking for possession AND precedes the possessed item. This is similar to English phrases using 's.
"The boss' computer isn't working."
- Bossi arvuti ei tööta. (Estonian - bossi is the genitive singular of boss)
- Pomon tietokone ei toimi. (Finnish - pomon is the genitive singular of pomo)
Professor Helle Metslang of the University of Tartu has created a summary that compares Estonian with Finnish. See the subsection “Online material and links to information of interest” below for the URL of this paper.
When it comes to vocabulary, knowledge of Finnish can still be helpful but beware of false friends or near false-friends.
- - ema “mother” || emä “female” (Finnish)
- halb “bad, weak” || halpa “cheap” (Finnish)
- julge “daring, fearless” || julkea “insolent” (Finnish)
- piim “milk” || piimä “buttermilk” (Finnish)
- piir “border” || piiri “circle” (Finnish)
- tema “he, she” || tämä “this” (Finnish)
- tee “road; tea” || tee “tea” (Finnish) (N.B. the Finnish cognate of Estonian tee “road” is tie)
- vaim “ghost, spirit” || vaimo “wife” (Finnish)
In addition to words common to other Uralic languages, Estonian has a sizeable stock of Germanic loanwords not only because of hypothesized contact between Proto-Balto-Finnic (an ancestral language of Estonian) and Proto-Germanic but also because of the long influence on Estonian culture by German merchants and colonists during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It follows that some of these Germanic loanwords should be also discernible to speakers of English.
- kool (“school”); peet (“beet”); ankur (“anchor”); kuld (“gold”); leib (“bread” - Cf. “loaf (of bread)”); vilt (“felt”); ja (“and” – Cf. Old High German jo); kirss (“cherry” – Cf. German die Kirsche)
There are also loanwords from Baltic languages (e.g. Latvian), Swedish, and Russian
Estonian also has many words which have no cognates in other languages and must be learned as required. The reason for these "orphaned" words is partially attributable to the fact that efforts to create standard Estonian were also linked to a movement where "pure" Estonian words were created in order to replace loanwords.
Literature / Media / Film / Music
For the learner of Estonian, there is authentic material from Estonian culture that could enhance or enrich the learning experience, despite its relatively low profile.
A music lover who is learning Estonian can use Estonian songs to enhance understanding of the language, while also enjoying the creative efforts of Estonian musicians. Fans of classical music may take a liking to music by Artur Kapp, Arvo Pärt, Mart Saar, Veljo Tormis or Eduard Tubin, while fans of more modern music may enjoy the punk rock bands J.M.K.E. and Vennaskond, or folk-metal groups Metsatöll and Raud-Ants. The girl band Vanilla Ninja and pop rock singer Kerli Kõiv may also be of interest. As alluded to earlier, vocal music is prominent in Estonian musical life as exemplified by the Estonian Song Festival held every five years and the fact that there are roughly 700 choirs in a country whose population is just below 1.4 million. Perhaps the most well-known of these choirs is the Eesti Filharmoonia Kammerkoor (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir) which has a fairly extensive discography covering both Estonian and non-Estonian music. Examples of Estonian singers include Eda-Ines Etti, Henry Kõrvits (a.k.a. G-Enka), Georg Ots, Birgit Õigemeel, Gerli Padar, and Tanel Padar.
Estonian literature as a “high” art form dates from the first half of the 19th century in line with the Estonian national awakening. Before that time, folklore and translations of religious texts were the primary forms of literary expression in Estonian (or some form of it). The Estonian national epic, “Kalevipoeg” (Kalev's Son) holds a similar place to Estonians as “Kalevala” does for Finns and like the Finnish epic, Kalevipoeg is based on rural folklore centered on a mythical character. It became a symbol of emerging Estonian nationalism in the 19th century and one of its editors, Friedrich Kreutzwald was considered to be the author of the first original book in Estonian.
Other important figures in Estonian literature include poets Kristjan Jaak Peterson, Maarja Kangro, Juhan Liiv, Gustav Suits and Marie Under and authors Jaan Kaplinski, Jaan Kross, Anton H. Taamsaare, and Eduard Vilde,
Movies in Estonian can also provide a helpful diversion for students learning Estonian. Noteworthy titles include “Kevade” (Spring) directed by Arvo Kruusement, “Viimne reliikvia” (The Last Relic) directed by Grigori Kromanov and “Georgica” directed by Sulev Keedus.
- 1) Teach Yourself Estonian (Mare Kitsnik and Leelo Kingisepp)
- It comes with two CDs and a textbook and costs about $40 US on Amazon.
- What I enjoy about this course is that it has lively dialogues, a user-friendly presentation to grammar and many exercises compared to most other courses in the “Teach Yourself” series. The back of the book contains the answer key, some appendices on Estonian declension and small but useful bidirectional word lists. The lists are particularly useful since the authors took the time to provide the applicable declensional or conjugational information for every Estonian word so that one can start to learn how to use a word to its full extent. In this respect it exceeds the quality of some English-Estonian/Estonian-English dictionaries which show only the basic form of every Estonian entry.
- A noticeable shortcoming of the course is that it does not explicitly deal with palatalization or the difference between long and overlong sounds.
- A potential (albeit minor) shortcoming of this course is the emphasis on situations encountered more frequently by tourists (e.g. hotel reservations, shopping). This aspect may irk some users who wish to learn Estonian for “less practical” reasons.
2) Colloquial Estonian (Christopher Moseley)
- It comes with two CDs and a textbook and costs about $50 US on Amazon.
- The course follows the pattern of other books in the “Colloquial” series with each chapter containing dialogues, some notes on grammar and exercises. Answers and word lists (English-to-Estonian and vice-versa) come at the end of the book.
- Compared to “Teach Yourself Estonian”, “Colloquial Estonian” is poor and best avoided. Glaring problems with this course include the inadequate amount of exercises, regular use of a suspected non-native speaker on the recordings, inadequate attention given to gradation and palatalization, exercises that test understanding of grammar topics without having been explained in the same or previous chapters (for example, one of the answers for an exercise in an early chapter requires the student to know something that is first shown in a later chapter.) and word-lists that do not provide nearly as much information as those in “Teach Yourself Estonian”.
- Like "Teach Yourself Estonian", "Colloquial Estonian" does not explicitly deal with the difference between long and overlong sounds.
- Similarly negative reviews of this course can be seen at Amazon.com
3) Estonian Textbook: Grammar – Exercises – Conversation (Juhan Tuldava and Ain Haas)
- For a serious student of Estonian, this is a handy combination of a reference grammar and textbook. Unfortunately it seems to be out of print and copies on the second-hand market may cost at least $50 US.
- It is an English translation of an old Estonian textbook for Swedes but the layout of the course is accessible and usually not intimidating for a beginner.
- Each of the 40 chapters begins with an explanation on one or two aspects of Estonian grammar and then follows with a short text or dialogue before ending with a set of exercises with an attendant answer key. In addition, each chapter includes a short list of idiomatic or useful expressions.
- What I enjoy most about the course is that it presents Estonian grammar quite gradually (having 40 chapters does allow the author to spread things out) and its grammatical explanations are even clearer and more helpful than those in “Teach Yourself Estonian”. The word list at the back is only Estonian-to-English but like “Teach Yourself Estonian”’s word lists, each entry has the relevant grammatical information (i.e. 4 forms for each noun, adjective and verb) which will allow one to learn how to use the words properly.
- A couple of large shortcomings for me are that it does not come with audio and that the book’s effectiveness is hindered by the relatively small amount of exercises (many of which are just exercises involving translation of 10 or 20 English sentences into Estonian.)
4) Basic Course in Estonian (Felix Oinas)
- It comes with a textbook and 32 cassettes or CDs.
- This is the most comprehensive Estonian course available. It is reportedly based on DLI’s Estonian course from the Cold War. Its approach is similar to FSI’s “Basic” courses and has plenty of drills and dialogues of a military or diplomatic bent. This course is meant for those with plenty of motivation and discipline.
- One can buy the complete course from Multilingual Books for approximately $300 US.
- Routledge has reprinted the original textbook and sells it for approximately $150 US or higher.
- Indiana University has posted the course's audio as .mp3 files on the website of its language course archives. See the subsection “Online material and links to information of interest” below.
- As far as I can tell the course is not in the public domain as Indiana University holds the copyright.
TEA Publishers dominates the market for publishing language-learning materials in Estonia. In addition to being the publishers of the native Estonian courses below, it also puts out almost all of the genuinely useful Estonian dictionaries for learners. Koolibri also publishes a large Estonian-to-English dictionary that seems highly-regarded. These resources are widely available in Estonia and it would be ideal to buy these resources while in that country. Unfortunately, buying TEA's or Koolibri's products from abroad can become expensive after including charges for international shipping and customs. An American source for these "homegrown" materials is BalticShop.com while a British source is Bay Foreign Language Books Ltd.
5) E nagu Eesti [“E for Estonia”] (Mall Pesti and Helve Ahi)
- Its latest edition comprises a textbook with downloadable audio in .mp3 format on a supporting website. See the subsection “Online material and links to information of interest” below for the link. In Estonia the book costs approximately 20€.
- All lessons and explanations are in Estonian, but the back contains a glossary in English, Finnish, German and Russian as well as an answer key.
- Many universities that offer courses in Estonian for foreign beginners use this textbook.
- It is typical of language courses that have been produced within the last 20 years with its emphasis on communication and avoidance of heavy drilling.
6) T nagu Tallinn [“T for Tallinn”] (Mall Pesti and Helve Ahi)
- This is a continuation for those who have used “E nagu Eesti”
- It comprises a textbook, a teacher’s manual, and CD. In Estonia the set costs approximately approximately 40€.
- Its approach is somewhat similar to that of “E nagu Eesti” and more suitable for in-class instruction
7) Naljaga pooleks [“Half-Jokingly”] (Mare Kitsnik and Leelo Kingisepp)
- This course for beginners was created by the authors of “Teach Yourself Estonian” and published in 2006.
- It comprises a textbook and CD. In Estonia, the set costs approximately 20€.
- Its approach is somewhat similar to that of “E nagu Eesti” and more suitable for in-class instruction
- It contains glossaries in English, Estonian and Russian.
8) Avatud uksed [“Open Doors”] (Mare Kitsnik and Leelo Kingisepp)
- The latest version of the course is from 2008 and is a continuation for those who have used “Naljaga pooleks”
- It comprises a textbook, workbook, teacher’s manual and 3 CDs. In Estonia, the set costs approximately approximately 50€.
- Its approach is somewhat similar to that of “E nagu Eesti” and more suitable for in-class instruction
9) Keeleklikk (Leelo Kingisepp and Marju Ilves)
- This is an online course for beginners (free registration required) designed for speakers of English or Russian.
- It has videos and interactive exercises (Flash required) and can be used for self-study or as part of a class.
- See under “Online courses or downloadable material” for the URL.
- This is an online course for intermediate students that's still (2019) under construction.
- So far 9 units (out of 12) have been created and they contain videos, audio clips, interactive exercises, and tests at the end of each unit.
- Transcripts of the recordings are provided in .pdf
- See under “Online courses or downloadable material” for the URL.
11) Estonian-English Dictionary (Paul F. Saagpakk) (published by Koolibri)
- This is a large and comprehensive dictionary (about 100,000 entries). In Estonia it costs approximately 35€.
- Most entries show idiomatic uses and all entries include grammatical information or cross-references to lists for declension or conjugation in the first part of the dictionary which makes it very helpful for those English-speakers learning Estonian.
- Various course syllabi of Estonian courses for foreigners list Saagpakk's dictionary as the best one for Estonian-to-English use.
12) Estonian-English Dictionary (a dictionary published by TEA but it has the same idea as Saagpakk's Estonian-English dictionary that was mentioned above)
- This is a large and comprehensive dictionary (about 100,000 entries). In Estonia it costs approximately $100 US
- Most entries shows idiomatic uses and all entries include grammatical information for declension or conjugation which makes it very helpful for those English-speakers learning Estonian
13) English-Estonian Dictionary (Johannes Silvet)
- This is a large and comprehensive dictionary (about 100,000 entries). In Estonia it costs approximately 125€.
- Estonian translations are not cross-referenced to grammatical tables in the first part of the dictionary nor do they show the relevant grammatical information for Estonian words.
14) English-Estonian/Estonian-English e-Dictionary
- This is an electronic dictionary on CD-ROM (about 200,000 references in total). In Estonia it costs approximately 100€.
- Like many electronic dictionaries, it can be set up to perform spell-checking
- According to the description on TEA's website, it shows differences in American and British use along with examples of idiomatic use for many entries.
- I do not know if this electronic dictionary also includes grammatical information for its entries as I have never used this product and only know of it through a search on TEA's website.
15) TEA minitaskusõnastik. Inglise-eesti-inglise [“TEA Mini Pocket Dictionary. English-Estonian-English”]
- This is a handy bidirectional dictionary between Estonian and English. In Estonia it costs approximately 15€
- It contains about 40,000 entries and it does show some examples of idiomatic use for most entries.
- Unfortunately it does not include grammatical information in its entries. If one wishes to still have a source which shows the declensional or conjugational information of Estonian words but the costs of the large dictionaries above by Silvet or Saagpaak are prohibitive, an alternative could be to supplement this pocket dictionary with a copy of the cheaper monolingual Estonian dictionaries mentioned below.
- TEA also publishes similar pocket dictionaries for Estonian to Finnish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish or Spanish
16a) TEA rahvasõnaraamat. Inglise-eesti [“TEA General Dictionary. English-Estonian”]
16b) TEA rahvasõnaraamat. Eesti-inglise [“TEA General Dictionary. Estonian-English”]
- These are basic dictionaries and meant for general use. Each dictionary contains 15,000 entries and costs about 15€.
- Like the “TEA Mini Pocket Dictionary” above, they do show some examples of idiomatic use for most entries but do not have grammatical information on declension or conjugation.
- TEA also publishes similar general dictionaries for Estonian to Finnish, French, German and Russian
17) TEA koolisõnastik eesti keel + CD-ROM [“TEA School Dictionary for Estonian”]
- This is a handy monolingual Estonian dictionary and costs about 25€.
- It is very useful for a student in that it shows the declensional or conjugational information of every entry where applicable.
- This dictionary is also published in English by TEA as “Estonian School Dictionary”
18) Eesti keele rahvasõnaraamat [“General Dictionary of Estonian”]
- This is very similar to the “TEA School Dictionary for Estonian” above but this general dictionary does not have a CD-ROM. Consequently it is somewhat cheaper. It costs approximately 20€.
19) Eesti Õigekeelsussõnaraamat ÕS 2013 [~ “Estonian Orthological (Prescriptive) Dictionary”]
- This is a large monolingual dictionary which is laid out similarly to the monolingual dictionaries published by TEA (see 17) and 18) above). It costs approximately 40€.
- Because of the strong similarity between this dictionary and predecessors from 1999 and 2006, it may be easier on one's budget to buy older versions.
- It contains approximately 40,000 entries.
- It is very useful for a student in that it shows the declensional or conjugational information of every entry where applicable. It does this either by including the information adjacent to the entry or by linking the entry via cross-reference to a list of "pattern words" in the first part of the dictionary.
- The Institute of the Estonian Language also hosts online the latest edition of this dictionary. It appears that every 5-7 years a new edition is released. See the subsection “Online material and links to information of interest” below for a link to the latest edition of this dictionary (2018).
*As with other languages, AVOID getting the Estonian dictionary that is published by Hippocrene Books. Hippocrene's Estonian dictionary is inadequate and contains even less information than the free online Estonian-English dictionaries and databases that I have listed in the subsection “Online material and links to information of interest”.
**Interesting note for people who are learning Finnish: Getting a Finnish dictionary meant for Estonians may be an inexpensive way to get a Finnish dictionary that shows declensional or conjugational information of Finnish words. In the case for English-Finnish/Finnish-English dictionaries, the quality of most is rather low and entries often do not include relevant information on their declension or conjugation. Because of the similarity between Estonian and Finnish, I suspect that publishers in Estonia have felt obliged to show grammatical information beside Finnish entries so as to help Estonian users steer clear of mixing Estonian inflections with Finnish ones. As a supplement to my meager English-Finnish/Finnish-English dictionary, I also bought an Estonian-Finnish-Estonian dictionary solely because the latter provides me with the necessary grammatical information for declining or conjugating every Finnish entry.
ii) Online material and links to information of interest
- Discussions or posts on how-to-learn-any-language.com involving Estonian
- Books, Programmes etc to learn Estonian?
- Estonian/Finnish/Hungarian "cheat sheet"
- Finnish & Estonian
- Finno-Ugric languages
- Studying Estonian
Other forums or discussions on other forums
- Discussion about mutual intelligibility between Estonian and Finnish on WordReference
- Unilang's Estonian discussion forum
General treatment and descriptions of Estonian's learning difficulty
- Wikipedia's article on Estonian
- A website on language difficulty for native speakers of English
- The Estonian Language Blog
- Professor Helle Metslang's summaries of potential difficulties for learners of Estonian and comparison of Estonian and Finnish
Dictionaries and other databases
- A database that gives the declensional or conjugational patterns of 100,000 Estonian words (In Estonian only)
- Website of the Institute of the Estonian Language (it includes links to a prescriptive handbook on using Estonian, articles on corpus planning and a text corpus and the 2018 edition of the Estonian orthological (explanatory) dictionary)
- An easy-to-use bidirectional dictionary between Estonian and English
- Another easy-to-use bidirectional dictionary between Estonian and English
- A small but useful bidirectional dictionary between Estonian and English with all Estonian entries showing either declensions in genitive singular and partitive singular or conjugation to present tense singular 3rd person and “-da” infinitive.
- A site for Polish-speakers which includes an online Estonian course and dictionary. (Of interest is that its online Polish-Estonian dictionary gives grammatical information for the Estonian equivalent(s) of a given Polish entry (genitive singular and partitive singular for nouns, “-da” infinitive and 1st person singular in present tense for verbs).
- Profile of Estonian which includes lists of useful phrases, vocabulary and some simplified conjugation tables for 22 commonly-used verbs.
Online courses or downloadable material
- Audio of "Basic Course in Estonian" from Indiana University as .mp3 files
- Website with supplemental learning material for “E nagu Eesti”
- Online courses from the ONENESS online language-learning project (includes Estonian)
- Short online course of Estonian for German-speakers
- Estonian Language Competencies Course for the Peace Corps hosted at ERIC (textbook only)
- Online learning material for Estonian for professions (e.g. cooking, hairdressing) from kutsekeel.ee including sets of textbooks with audio and assorted learning materials for other professions
- Online course for beginners “Keelekliik”
- Online course for intermediate learners “Keeletee”
Other links related to Estonian courses
- Lists of Estonian schools outside Estonia
- Estonian cultural centers outside Estonia and universities outside Estonia that offer classes in Estonian
- UCLA’s page on Estonian as part of the Language Materials Project (contains database of learning material for Estonian as well as links to Estonia-related portals and websites)
- List of Estonian learning materials with bibliographical information
Literature and authentic texts
- Eesti rahvalaulud (Anthology of lyrics from folksongs)
- Eesti värss (Collection of poems)
- Estonian Sky 2: Time and Space (collection of short texts about Estonian folklore with original Estonian texts followed by translations to English)
- Komi folklore (collection of folklore in Komi with adjacent line-by-line translations to Estonian, Russian and English)
- Newspaper articles and legal texts (Assorted)
- Grafo (Assorted scanned facsimiles/images of assorted periodicals and other texts)
- Noor-Eesti (Collection of texts by writers belonging to the literary circle "Noor-Eesti" (Young Estonia))
- Raamatukogu sisukord (Collection of Estonian texts from the 1920s)
- Tutvustuseks - Kreutzwaldi sajand / Eesti kultuurilooline veeb (Collection of texts including the national epic "Kalevipoeg")
Bookstores that carry Estonian inventory or learning materials for Estonian
- Apollo Raamatupood
- Baltic Shop
- Bay Foreign Language Books Ltd.
- Kirjastus Ersen
- Kirjastus Hermes
- Raamatukoi raamatupood
- Rahva raamat
- Lists of radio stations and television stations in Estonia (stations' websites have content that is playable as a stream).
- Lastekas (large collection of media in Estonian for children including streamed cartoons ("Multikad"), videos ("Videod") and crosswords ("Ristsõnad"). Many cartoons can be watched with subtitles in Estonian while several others offer a choice between Estonian and Russian subtitles. Light-hearted material that is potentially very useful for beginners in Estonian).
This is a somewhat modified version of my Estonian profile in the "Collaborative Writing" subforum last edited on May 28, 2012 at how-to-learn-any-language.com with new information provided by ilmari.