First some commonalities Estonian and English have. Both use the Latin alphabet. Both have the same word categories such as nouns, verbs, pronouns, numerals, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, interjections and conjunctions. Besides some loan words such as hamburger, video, test, sport, etc (to the delight of English speakers, there are plenty of them), other things are quite different and may require some mental adjustment which in a longer run is good for our brain anyway. 😉
Here some basic differences:
- Due to the nature of English, pronunciation and spelling do not always match while in Estonian the contrary is true. Seldom will one run into this predicament when writing in Estonian. 🙂
- Estonian language does not make any distinction of gender (such as with pronouns he or she or adjectives his or her, or special endings known from French or Russian). Instead for he, she or it we just have the same word tema that applies to women and men, people, animals and things alike and also works for adjectives his, her or its. 🙂
- When it comes to verbs, we have less tenses than English. We don’t have present continuous (I am watching), past continuous (I was watching) or anything to such effect (I have or had been watching, etc). 🙂
- Instead, we keep it simple by having 4 tenses only: simple present (I watch – ma vaatan), simple past (I watched – ma vaatasin), present perfect (I have watched – ma olen vaadanud) and past perfect (I had watched – ma olin vaadanud). 🙂
- And we don’t have any future forms – we use contextual means to express the idea of something happening in future . In a sense it is simpler but it may take some time to get used to. The benefit of the above last two points is clear – less verb-iage! 🙂
- While in English the verbs have only an ending for 3rd singular person in present tense (sings, laughs, etc), Estonian uses distinct endings for each person – singular and plural alike – in simple present and simple past tense. 🙁
- While you in English is a blanket term used to address one or one hundred people alike, in Estonian we have sina to address one person and teie to address more than one person. So this may complicate things a bit since teie is used for one person in more formal settings . 🙁
- Estonian is an inflective language, meaning that grammatical features such as the number, case, person, mood, or tense are expressed by adding specific endings to the word, as in English adding ‘s’ to have dogs, or by changing the form of a base word, as English spoke derived from speak. This is probably one of the trickiest things about Estonian: the words come in multiple forms and instead of one word you may have to learn dozen of similar words with different endings. But Scrabble players would surely like it, wouldn’t they? 🙁 /:)
- In English, relations between words in a phrase or sentence are primarily expressed by the means of prepositions, such as at, by, with, from, etc. Though having a number of prepositions and even more postpositions, Estonian uses mostly grammatical cases for this particular purpose. The grammatical cases are usually evidenced by various endings, such autos (in the car), autota (without a car), autoga (with a car). 🙁
- In noun phrases all words have the same grammatical case: ilus naine (pretty woman) – ilusale naisele (to a pretty woman). 🙁
As the smiley and frowny faces indicate, some things are easier while some things are harder in Estonian. Main thing is not to forget good parts when struggling with hard ones.
So keep your chin up or as Estonians would say Ära lase nina norgu!