Estonian/Lesson 1

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Estonian alphabet is based on Latin alphabet, with German influence. Full alphabet has 32 letters:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, Š, Z, Ž, T, U, V, W, Õ, Ä, Ö, Ü, X, Y

So-called "foreign letters" ('võõrtähed) F, Š, Z and Ž occur only in loanwords and foreign proper names. C, Q, W, X and Y do not occur in Estonian words, but are used in writing foreign proper names.


Estonian has "borrowed" many words from other languages. Many of them have been altered more or less in the process of nativization.


  • baar, pubi – bar, pub
  • buss – bus
  • dieet – diet
  • elevant – elephant
  • paber – paper
  • pank – bank
  • raadio – radio
  • süsteem – system
  • šampoon – shampoo
  • tee – tea
  • televisioon – television
  • tšekk – cheque
  • turist – tourist


Figure out what these Estonian words are in English.

  1. projekt
  2. faks
  3. galerii
  4. skandaal
  5. idioot
  6. klassik
  7. koopia
  8. pomm
  9. kaart
  10. füüsika



Writing IPA Rough pronunciation guide
a [ɑ] like the "a" in "car"
e [e] like the "e" in "net"
i [i] like the "i" in "pink"
o [o] like the "o" in "sock"
u [u] like the "u" in "put"
õ [ɤ] somewhat like the "o" in "roses"
ä [æ] like the "a" in "cat"
ö [ø] just like the German ö in "Österreich" or "u" in "burn"
ü [y] just like the German ü in "über"

There are three vowel lenghts in Estonian: short, long and over-long. Short vowels are marked with one letter, but both long and over-long vowels are marked with two letters, for example:

  • tore [tore] "nice", toore [to:re] "raw material", toore [to::re] "raw (".

So, as you may see, vowel lenght is sometimes crucial to understand the meaning of a word correctly.


Diphthongs sound like the sounds of two letters pronounced quickly after each other. Try to pronounce them:

ae ai ao au
ea ei eo eu
ia io iu
oa oe oi ou
ua ue ui uo
õa õe õi õo õu
äe äi äo äu
öa öe öi
üa üe üi üo


  • Consonants "b", "d", "g" are usually pronounced voiceless in Estonian, similar to "p", "t", "k".
  • "Š" is pronounced like "sh" in English and "ž" like "zh".
  • Consonant "j" sounds like "y" in "yoghurt".
  • "N", "t", "s", "l" may sound palatalized, which is not indicated in writing, but changes the meaning of a word, for example: palk [palk] "salary", palk [palʲk] "log".

Three different lenghts are possible with consonants too:

  • short peni "hound", long penni "penny (", over-long penni "penny (".

But with stops it works like this:

  • short kabi "hoof", long kapi "cupboard (", over-long kappi "cupboard ("
  • short kade "jealous", long kate "cover", over-long katte "cover ("
  • short lage "bare", long lake "slop", over-long lakke "to the ceiling"