Your quick guide to the Estonian language

Source: Renee Altrov, Visit Estonia

Your quick guide to the Estonian language

The Estonian language is spoken by roughly 1.1 million people and it is most similar to Finnish. It is quite unique among European languages, belonging to the Finno-Ugric family along with Finnish and Hungarian. Most words look to be from a different planet sound mesmerisingly melodic. This so-called "elven" language is spoken by around 1.1 million people globally.

Estonia has one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 99.8% and nearly everyone speaks a foreign language, most commonly English and Russian, but also Finnish, German or Swedish. This makes getting around Estonia easy, though an aitäh (thank you) is always appreciated.

Rhythmic beauty 

Estonian's melodic nature has lent itself well to folk songs. 

Photo by: Iris Kivisalu

Some useful phrases:

Tere – Hello
Palun – Please, you're welcome
Aitäh – Thank you
Jah – Yes
Ei – No
Minu nimi on ... – My name is ...
Terviseks! – Cheers!
Vabandust – Sorry
Nägemist – Bye

More phrases can be found here.

Petite yet diverse 

There are as many as eight dialects and 117 subdialects in Estonia. 

Photo by: Iris Kivisalu

Fun facts

  • Estonian uses the Roman alphabet, like English, with the addition of letters like õ, ä,ö, and ü.
  • Estonian is hard! It has 14 noun cases along with short and long consonants and vowels, which explains why it has been named the world's 5th toughest language to learn for English speakers after Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Arabic.
  • Estonian has no gender or future tense. It does have plenty of tongue twisters and it's possible to build dizzyingly long compound words, like the 24-letter long kuulilennuteetunneliluuk. It means "the hatch a bullet flies out of when exiting a tunnel" and is also a palindrome.

Sauna talk 

People relax outside a wooden sauna.

Photo by: Oliver Moosus

Learning Estonian

Test your pronunciation skills in the Estonian Tryouts game. Simply listen to fun words like küsimus (question) and jäääär (edge of the ice) and try to repeat them! Share your results on social media using #visitestonia to let us know how you did. If that piques your interest, you can learn the 100 most important phrases for free with Lingvist's Essential Estonian online course!

Sources: Estonica, Matador Network, Work in Estonia, ERR

Last updated : 01.03.2022

In category: History & culture