Estonian for dummies

When I joined Skype’s marketing team in London back in 2007 I was one of the few Estonians in the office. My new colleagues often pinged me to get linguistic help – to learn expressions for rapport building and jokes, or to understand a comment made in that cryptic language.

So I produced a Lunch & Learn session to share the basics of Estonian and teach some critical expressions like Can I get a receipt for that order of 18 sambucas. Not only did the session prove popular, dozens of people have asked me for the materials later. The last request was yesterday, so it only makes sense to finally publish the materials here.

Estonian in a nutshell

  • Spoken by about 1.1 million people
  • One of the few sources of character Õ
  • Belongs to the Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric languages.
  • Grammar, albeit reformed, is a nightmare.
  • 14 cases for nouns and adjectives. For example ‘idu’ vs. ‘eo’ vs. ‘eolt’ – it’s the same word!
  • No grammatical gender


  • Vocals and most consonants exactly like in Spanish
  • The most rolling Spanish/Scottish R ever
  • Not a single letter goes unpronounced
  • Pronounce double vocals like you mean it. Tiit = Tiiiit.
  • PS. Capital of Estonia in not Tallin!

Estonian cheat sheet

Estonian cheat sheet

Originally, there was also a slide deck, but that doesn’t make much sense without notes. Maybe one day when there’s more time (than 24 hours in a day)..

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