The common kingfisher by Sven Zacek

People in Estonia need to be multilingual. This is the daily reality of our lives, and I absolutely love it. Being a language person myself (I speak 7 languages, have a BA in English and MA in translation studies), learning a new language has always felt like diving into a newly found treasure chest. Each language enables us to see the world through the eyes of the people who speak it, through their history, experiences and world view. That is to say, with each new language a person becomes richer and the world becomes more understandable and colorful. When I think about the people living in Estonia, whom I know personally, I cannot think of a single one who would speak less than two languages, most commonly though at least three.

To give you a personal glimpse into the realities of language learning in Estonia, I will share my own story. I was born when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union. I am native Estonian, and my first language is Estonian, but attempting to give me a better chance of success in life, my parents put me into a Russian speaking kindergarten. I was 2 years old and did not speak a word of Russian. I barely remember anything of that time, but the legacy was a lasting one – my Russian is good enough that Russians who hear me speak quite often ask, if I’m Russian. In school I learned in addition to Estonian also Russian, English, German and Swedish. And living in North-Estonia gave me the added bonus of learning Finnish by simply watching the Finnish TV-programs, which were not accessible in the South-Estonia, for example. Basically, by the age of 3 I was fluent (as fluent as a 3-year-old can be) in Estonian and Russian, by the age of 8 I could speak, read and understand also Finnish, and by the age of 15 I had added three more languages to that list.

As you can see, learning languages comes naturally when living in Estonia. You are surrounded by different languages both in Estonia, and around it. A small nation cannot survive without communicating with others, with their neighbors and the world at large. We have to be curious, open to the world around us, and learn, learn, learn all through our lives. It does not always come easily, for sure, but it is always worth the effort. After all, every part of our lives depends on our ability to communicate with each other.