Discover more from Decode Estonian
Get ready to meet Brooke!
Discover what inspired her to learn Estonian and her experience at the Decode Estonian workshop
A few weeks ago, Brooke attended the Decode Estonian workshop. Shortly after, we had a chance to sit down with her for a small interview where she spilled all the details about what inspired her to learn Estonian, the obstacles she faced, and her recent experience at the Estonian language workshop. Let's jump right in!
Hello Brooke. Tell us why you're here in Estonia right now!
I'm here in Estonia for both work and to hang out with my colleagues. I've been fortunate to work with a mostly Estonian team for nearly two years now, and I've had the opportunity to visit Estonia a couple of times. Every time I return to Tallinn, I find myself falling a bit more in love with the place.
You mentioned having Estonian colleagues; is that how you began learning Estonian?
Pretty much. I'm British American, and currently, I only speak English. I mostly work with international teams, and I think it's polite to be able to greet others with phrases like “Good morning!” or “How are you?” in their languages. I can express some important phrases like "Can I have some wine, please?" or "Where's the bathroom?" in various European languages.
I have several Estonian colleagues, and even though the language of the company is English, it's only natural to speak in your native language with those who speak it as well. This has led me to hear a lot of Estonian, and I think it's just a beautiful language. That sparked my desire to learn more, and I began looking into it bit by bit.
It's actually quite challenging to find apps for learning Estonian. I wanted to get a better understanding of the language, so I just kept searching terms like “Estonian language”, "Eesti”, or something like that on Spotify and Substack, hoping to find materials to listen to, watch, or read.
Did I understand correctly that you got the motivation from actually just wanting to be considerate towards your colleagues?
Pretty much, but a big part of it is also curiosity. I've always been curious. I moved to the UK when I was 21. I had never been to the country before, and I sort of accidentally stayed for a very long time, and that's where I'm based now.
I always wanted to know what's over the next hill or to be able to understand how someone else views the world. I think every human is unique, and everybody has a different perspective on things. And language is how we understand each other. And it's imperfect, but without it, we would just be screaming into the void.
You mentioned that finding apps for learning Estonian was challenging. What were some other difficulties you faced when learning Estonian?
It doesn't work like any of the other European languages. In French, for example, you could just be like, “This word means egg”. And you know, every time you see that word, it means “egg”, and you're good to go. That's not how it works in Estonian. It's not necessarily the verbs that are conjugated based on who you're speaking to; instead, it's the nouns and adjectives. That has been very confusing.
I did manage to find a couple of apps that can help with vocabulary, but not with understanding the structure.
I even made myself flashcards at one point, and one of my colleagues was like, “What's on the flashcards?” So I said "huuli," which the app claimed meant "lips." Well, he had no idea what I was saying and asked me to use it in a sentence. As soon as I used it in a sentence, it was suddenly, “Oh, that makes perfect sense!”
That was when I fully understood just how contextual it really is. And that was kind of when I realized that I was probably going to need to get a textbook or something that really explained it.
How did you find out about the workshop?
Whenever I was curious about “Estonian” or "Estonian language", I'd simply search for those terms on Substack. That's how I came across your content.
I have to admit that I'm not a paid subscriber yet, but every time you post, I take a look and read through what's going on. And then a couple weeks back, you posted about the two workshops in September, and I realized that one of them actually aligned perfectly with the trip I'd already planned.
I arrived in Estonia on the Saturday before the workshop. I went out with a couple of my friends on that Saturday evening. They were a bit too generous with the wine, and so when Sunday came around, I didn't feel the best. But during the workshop, things just started to click into place.
I had seen some tables before on how some of the names and endings of the words are supposed to be put together. And it didn't really make sense to me because I couldn’t understand the system.
But then, with some of the explanatory slides in the workshop, there was just a “click” moment. I'm both a visual and auditory learner. I've been watching quite a lot of Estonian TV online and listening to quite a few podcasts to try to build my understanding. I feel like the workshop just made everything start to make more sense. I have a much stronger grounding now, and I can actually understand the important bits of grammar.
Now I can take what I've learned and attempt to speak. I'm happy to write because I can check with a translation app. But I still find talking the most terrifying thing. I try composing sentences myself, and if I'm really unsure, I'll just check them with Google Translate.
In the few days that have passed between taking the workshop and this interview, how has your experience been compared to your previous visits, in terms of language?
I definitely understand a lot more now. Interestingly, it has been a bit more frustrating compared to my last visit. My brain now recognizes some Estonian words, which often leaves me wondering, "What is that word?" And then I'll miss the next three words.
During my last visit, I could only manage simple phrases like "Aitäh" and "Palun" . Now, I know enough to feel like I should understand more, which can be even more frustrating when I don't, but at the same time, it gives me more motivation to learn.
I'm planning to come back in December, and my goal for that trip is to try to speak to my Estonian colleagues only in Estonian. They will also be coming to London in the meantime, which gives me a chance to practice.
Since I work in the software industry, the terminology used is quite different from what you'd use to order a coffee. So I've found it super useful to understand the business side as well. Sometimes my coworkers say something in Estonian and follow it up with something in English, like “Why does the unit test not work?” So it’s nice to pick up on this vocabulary as well.