Three million people worldwide to learn the Estonian language from 23-29 September

How to become one of three million people worldwide learning the Estonian language? The Estonian Institute, the organiser of the Estonian Language Week, has the answer.

The Estonian Institute invites people learn and teach Estonian all over the world for one week, from 23-29 September. Approximately one thousand people are already studying the Estonian language at universities or language courses throughout the world and many Estonians are maintaining their mother tongue among their descendants abroad.

Now the organisers of the Estonian Language Week aim to reach three million people, who will learn some words or expressions in Estonian, such as numbers, greetings or congratulations. Lea Kreinin from the institute says every Estonian speaker can help to achieve it. Kate Greenwood interviewed Kreinin to find out more.

You are one of the organisers of Worldwide Estonian Language Week. Can you tell me a bit more about what’s going on during this week?

2019 is UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages and, in Estonia, we celebrate the year of the Estonian language, too. There have already been a lot of events going on this year, but this language week is happening worldwide. Our aim is to have three million people learning Estonian in whatever way possible. What I mean by this is, you don’t have to learn to speak fluent Estonian, but perhaps you can learn some phrases, numbers, colours or some funny words.

Lea Kreinin. Photo by Liina Luhats-Ulman.

Does this event run every year?

This is, actually, the first year it’s happening. We hope it will be a regular event each year, perhaps one week in September. But this is the first time it’s running, and we are very excited how people will respond to it and how many people will get involved. Maybe we won’t reach three million, maybe we’ll get more!

What motivated you in particular to organise this event?

Estonian is a very beautiful language and we want to share it with other people. Through this language week we hope to draw more attention to our little country so people will come to visit us and see how beautiful it really is.

You’ve mentioned that one of the aims is to promote Estonian worldwide: How can people get involved with this event outside Estonia?

We aim not only to promote the language but to promote Estonia and Estonian culture. We want people from all around the world to know more about our country. How do we hope to achieve this? Well, we would like all Estonians who live abroad to teach Estonian during this week. They could teach their colleagues, their friends or family members who are not Estonian.

What’s great is that you don’t need to be a teacher or have a certificate to teach a couple of words. Usually when Estonians go abroad people ask, “How do you say ‘cheers’?” or “How do you say ‘hello’?” or “‘goodbye’ in Estonian?” People want to learn and this week it is a great way to encourage Estonian language learning.

Simple Estonian phrases illustrated (Estonian Institute).

They can also get involved by going to our website and engaging with the interactive world map that allows you to mark the country you come from or the country you are currently living in. You can leave footprints so we know who’s learning Estonian and where. For instance, perhaps in Bolivia there will be ten people learning Estonian or maybe in the US there will be four hundred people. We really don’t know yet. That’s the exciting thing!

Also, Enterprise Estonia’s quizzes are very popular abroad. This year’s quiz will be about the Estonian language and the main prize is a trip to Estonia for two. We hope a lot of people will learn more Estonian and also learn more about our beautiful country.

Absolutely! It sounds like a great way for people from different places and cultures around the world to connect and learn together. Are there many Estonia’s living abroad now?

Yes, there are. When the German troops were withdrawing during the Second World War and the Soviet troops were drawing closer to Estonia, many Estonians fled because they’d already had one year of Soviet occupation. Actually, on 19 September, we marked the 75th anniversary of the great escape from Estonia. Some of their offspring still speak Estonian, many have already forgotten but they still feel Estonian.

After joining the European Union, many Estonians moved abroad to study or work and have now settled in other countries. We would like to ask all of them to participate in the project by teaching Estonian phrases to friends, family members, colleagues or neighbours.

It’s seems like a great way for Estonians to reconnect with their history and identity. So, we’ve spoken about how to take part in Estonian Language Week abroad, but can you tell me a bit more about some of the events that are taking place here in Tallinn?

There are several sites hosting pop-up language centres where you can go and learn Estonian phrases, for example, the Port of Tallinn (A and D terminals), the airport and at selected Selver supermarkets. Those who get involved will be given language postcards and stickers. You can also go to our website and learn more phrases. There, you will find links to free Estonian learning websites.

Also, here at the Estonian Institute we will have a pop-up language café on Wednesday, 27 September from 5pm till 7pm and on the 29 September from 3pm till 5pm. Everybody is welcome to come along, learn some Estonian and pick up their free postcards!

Everybody is welcome to come along and learn some Estonian (Estonian Institute).

There is even a language learning centre running on the train between Tallinn and Narva, a project that is run by the Integration Foundation. Museums and libraries around Estonia are also holding fun events during this week, for example treasure hunts. Vabamu, the Museum of Occupations and Freedom, has special programmes for those who already know a bit of Estonian.

Scattered around Tallinn you’ll find many language cafés inviting everyone to come and learn Estonian. If you can’t find anyone who can teach you some phrases, you can, of course, go online. Don’t forget to indicate where you come from or where you’re learning from!

For someone who’s heard about this event and wants to take part, what phrases or words do you suggest they learn?

Our website will give you a lot of examples. Even the president of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, has agreed to teach some Estonian. On our website, there is a video clip of her teaching three very important Estonian words, but I won’t tell you what they are. You must go to our website to find out!

If people are interested in taking part in this learning week, how can they find out more information about what’s going on and how to get involved?

You can learn lots more on our website. You can also follow us on Facebook and keep us posted as to how you get on learning Estonian. The Estonian Institute also has a Facebook event that is called “KeelEST”. You can add a frameto your profile picture to show your support and post photos about your learning on Instagram with the hashtag #eestikeelest.

Cover: Lea Kreinin at the Estonian Institute. Photo by Liina Luhats-Ulman.