Monday, 27 February 2017

Toomas Karmo (Part C): Practicalities of Studying Estonian

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 3/5. Justification: Kmo had time to do a reasonable job, but did not have time for much double-checking of prose or (at the preliminary-research stage) deep digging in sources.                                        

Revision history:

  • 20170228T1807Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo corrected or adjusted several small factual points, the worst of these being his misspelling of an author name (he had had "Kingsepp", where what was needed was "Kingisepp"). - He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, ... . 
  • 20170228T0531Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished converting his outline into coherent sentences. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170228T0345Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo uploaded an improved outline. He was now ready to convert the outline into coherent sentences (being now a bit behind schedule, and hoping to finish his conversion in 2 or 3 hours).
  • 20170228T00001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded an outline. He expected to convert this into coherent sentencs over the coming 4 hours.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that is formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" which on many Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect "Cascading Style Sheets" problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

4. Nuts and Bolts of Systematic Estonian-Language Studies (Textbooks, ...)

4.1 Language Courses of Primary Interest (Free, Web-Format)

It is appropriate to highlight as "of primary interest" two items which, being published on the open Web, require no up-front financial commitment from the prospective student. I cannot claim anything more than a superficial acquaintance with either of them.

(a) The first (and perhaps the one to be given the most attention by prospective students, should their time prove limited) is According to a link under, this particular self-study course is financed by the European Social Fund and the Estonian Ministry of Education and Science, and has received the European Commission's Award for Contributions to the Development of Foreign Language Teaching. 

Its target audience is adult - helpfully, from the standpoint of my own (adult) readers here in Ontario.  

Its target standard is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) level A2 ("Waystage or elementary"). CEFR, as documented at, describes students completing this level as able to "describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need". By contrast, it is upon completing the next CEFR level, B1 ("Threshold or Intermediate") that the student is able to "briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans". CEFR further envisages levels B2, C1, and C2, with the final, or C2, level constituting "Mastery or proficiency" (with the students completing C2 capable of "differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations"). 

Since the target level of proficiency is the rather modest CEFR A2,, with its cumulative-hours-of-study table, makes possible a guess at a rather modest time commitment: on the assumption that French as taught by the Alliance Française and German as taught by Deutsche Welle are roughly comparable with Estonian as taught by, it wold be reasonable for students to budget just 200 desk hours. My own experience with Biblical Hebrew indicates that a mere three hours per week is enough to maintain momentum - perhaps especially if care is taken to do a diligent half hour on each of the six normal working days, without ever allowing the week's work to pile up. At that gentle pace, CEFR Estonian A2 could be achieved  in a little over a year. 

In a university, one is admittedly expected by the Dean to be more vigorous - working , for a not-very-demanding course in humanities, at a rate of around six desk hours per week, unless one happens to be content with poor grades. 

A glance at the promotional materials further indicates the availability of ancillary sources on Estonian history and Estonian culture, specially prepared as part of this same project. I imagine that the ancillaries would call for an additional weekly time commitment, of perhaps one hour. 

(B) The second of my two is Here I have little information to offer, beyond the modest fact that someone, somewhere, in my various 2015 Web and telephone investigations, did direct attention to this (Lithuania-based) server, finding its quality in some respects commendably high. 

4.2 Language Courses of Secondary Interest (Not Free)

It is appropriate to pick out as "of secondary interest" course materials requiring some kind of purchase commitment from the prospective student. 

(A) One might first note - I use merely alphabetic order of first-author surname - three recent book offerings. All three are to be thought of as essentially hard copy. But in at least one case (noted below), there might be a parallel e-book: 

  • Mare Kitsnik and Leelo Kingisepp offer Complete Estonian with Two Audio CDs: A Teach Yourself Guide. When I previously researched the possibilities for Estonian available to our local young Toronto adults, in 2015, I made the encouraging discovery that this work had been selected by the University of Toronto Estonian-language course instructor for her 2015/2016 academic year. I cannot, without giving my fresh (2017-02-27) round of research more time than I have readily available, intelligently discuss purchase possibilities. The University of Toronto bookstore could, of course, be consulted, by phoning the appropriate query desk at the direct-line number 416-640-5336. Failing that query desk, one could try Amazon (who were in the 2015 spring quoting, perhaps as one price among others, 78.95 USD, and indicating that both new and used copies were available; admittedly, the difference between and adds a level of complexity for Canadian residents, with shipment from the former of these two outlets - if possible at all - perhaps liable to trigger an imposition of duty at Canadian customs. - In the spring of 2015, I seemed to find the work available from Apple iTunes, for 24.99 USD. - In the spring of 2015, Amazon was showing six customer reviews, with an average score of 4.7 stars, out of a possible maximum of 5.0 stars. Those 2015-era reviews were to my mind interesting, being in many or all instances positive. But I did around UTC=20170227T2200ZZ find a customer complaint at, to the effect that had sold someone (in Canada?) the book (or a variant thereon, by the same authors), I think as hardcopy, without its so-necessary CDs. - A hasty Google check around UTC=20170228T0130Z suggests that Kitsnik and Kingisepp teach Estonian, either from this book or from related materials, to the impressive CEFRL level B2. 
  • Mall Pesti and Helve Ahi offer E nagu Eesti. Eesti keele õpik algajatele A1+A2+B1 (this means "E-Like-Estonia: Estonian Language Text for Beginners, A1+A2+B1"; B1 marks just one CEFRL stage above the A2 which is the modest goal of - I have found, on hasty searching, a retailer at Further resources, including related textbooks, are sold under the "Books" link of
  • Sirje Rammo, et al, offer Keel selgeks! Eesti keele õpik täiskasvanutele (this means "Getting the Language Clear! An Estonian Text for Adults"). The target audience is said to comprise adults, including adults without access to a teacher, who have already studied one or two foreign languages. The target CEFR levels are, here as with the just-mentioned Pesti-and-Ahi, A1, A2, and B1. Something which in some sense is the "base portion" is said to be Estonian-only, with the grammar notes, vocabularies, and supplements said to be bilingual (in Estonian-and-Russian, Estonian-and-English, and Estonian-and-Finnish). Three CDs seem to be part of the book package. Separately from this package, there is  a rather thick (176-page) supplement option, Keel selgeks! : eesti keele õpik täiskasvanutele. Lisad ("lisad" are "add-ons"). On hasty searching, I have found retailers at for the main package, and at for the supplement. 
(B) Second, I cite, in no particular order, two computer courses:

Courseware described at, available in the spring of 2015,was said to be unavailable when I checked this site again at UTC=20170227T2232Z. 

Both in the spring of 2015 and around  UTC=20170227T2200Z, Web investigations left me with the impression that the highly regarded Rosetta Stone (™) was not offering Estonian. The promotional material at, on the other hand, today (2017-02-27) claims to achieve Rosetta Stone (™) quality levels, for lower prices than the Rosetta team typically charges. 

4.3 Auxiliary Study Materials (Not Self-Contained Language Courses)

(1) One portal (which I have not yet explored) for online dictionaries is

(2) Among the traditional hardcopy dictionaries, special mention might be made of the 1982 Estonian-to-English compilation from Paul F. Saagpakk (1910-1996): Eesti-inglise sõnaraamat (New Haven and London, 1982; second printing, Tallinn, 1992; third printing, Tallinn, 2000). This I used heavily around the years 1986-1991, annotating practically every page in my own bulky, expensive copy. It is helpful - and this is specially easy with traditional ink-on-paper hardcopy - to flag an entry with some prominent mark on first using it, and then to flag it again and again, as one keeps returning. Soon enough it becomes clear, from the proliferation of repeat-visit flags, that the Kitchen Estonian learned at one's parents' knees - in my case, over the five years preceding my 1958 entry into the Nova Scotian anglophone school system - had its gaps. 

Saagpakk's prefatory material incorporates a survey of Estonian grammar, to a length of many tens of pages, in Estonian and English. Here are found not only detailed morphological tables for declension types and conjugation types, but a discussion of the Johannes Aavik (1880-1973) linguistic reforms. Aavik's dramatic story recalls the labours of Hebrew philologist-cum-reformer  Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) - briefly mentioned here at on 2017-01-30 or 2017-01-31. 

(3) The following auxiliary Web pages (which I have not investigated) are also of possible interest to students, or at any rate to their teachers, as explorations of dialectal vocabularies, special-subject vocabularies, and the like: 

4.4 Institutional Contacts Potentially Useful for Students

In merely alphabetical order:

  • My personal 2015 experience shows that the Estonian Language Institute ( free-of-charge philological helpline at +011-372-631-3731 is happy to take also queries from Canada. The line operates on Mondays through Fridays, from 09:00 to 12:00 and from 13:00 to 17:00 on ordinary Tallinn civil time. (Overlooking possible vagaries of at the equinoxes, when clocks in the two countries are not necessarily guaranteed to make their winter-to-summer and summer-to-winter transitions on exactly the same respective weekends, it is as a general rule the case that Tallinn civil time leads Toronto civil time, in every season, by seven hours.) 
  • The Tartu College Estonian Studies Library, described in Estonian at, emphasizes current publshing, from Estonia, in literature and humanities. It is from here that I have been, for example, able to borrow the recent gripping Estonian-language biography of Estonia's 1930s-through-1970s London ambassador, August Torma (the English translation, on the other hand, is I believe to be had instead from the Robarts Libary at the University of Toronto). It is from here that I hope soon to borrow a hefty coffee-table volume on the Tartu Observatory. Although the street address is 310 Bloor Street West, Toronto, street access is from the adjoining Madison Avenue. Hours are (in Toronto civil time) MON 18:30-20:30, TUE 12:00-15:00, and THU 11:00-13:00. An annual subscription used to cost 5 CAD, but it is possible that this fee has now been waived. Loans are for three weeks, renewable by telephone through 416-925-9405, extension 261. A few years ago, the extension was, a little confusingly, 263. If, as on some rare occasions happens, one visits Madison Avenue and finds the street door accidentally locked, one may find this phone number, with the correct extension, helpful. - A rather subtle, useful feature of the library is its summer shutdown. Upon borrowing a pile of material in May, one can enjoy undisturbed reading, without need for renewals, until the library re-opens in September. 
  • The University of Toronto not only has its own rather good holdings in Aesthonica (both in Estonian and in English; Saagpakk is held in three copies) but also offers various courses in language and literature. The promotional material for the September 2016 start-of-classes may still be viewed at In recent years, as perhaps also at present, the language instructor has been Prof. Marju Toomsalu. Prof. Toomsalu is also on faculty in an English position at Ryerson University ( - not, contrary to one's possible expectation, When I last checked statistics, Prof. Toomsalu had, for the 2015/2016 academic year, an Estonian-course enrollment of eleven. I gather from the perhaps-2016 experience of a younger-generation friend that auditing, as opposed to enrollment for academic credit, is an available option. 
  • I cannot think of VEMU (Väliseesti Muuseum; Museum of Estonians Abroad and an agreeable John-le-Carré adrenaline rush.  On the shelves which VEMU helps curate is one of the best collections of Cold-War-era Aesthonica outside Estonia - books from the major 1940s-through-1980s exile publishing houses in two or so copies; runs of the major exile newspapers, I think complete; and long runs (perhaps, admittedly, not complete) of periodicals from occupied Estonia. There are even gramophone records from exile ensembles or choirs. (I must remember to donate, if VEMU does not already hold it, my vinyl copy of the "Ki-Ki Kvartett", recorded in cold-war Toronto. Mum forbade the playing of its catchy first track, "Raha paneb rattad käima" - that title gives also the album its name -  on the family stereo, correctly noting its vulgarity. Raha paneb rattad käima/ Kas Sa seda ei tea/ Rahaga võib viina juua/ Küll on purjus hea - as I translate it, "Money makes the wheels go round/ Oh can't you understand?/ With money comes your glass of schnapps/ Oh, to be drunk is grand.")   Specially evocative, in a kind of horrid Auschwitz-Belsen-Ravensbrück-Perm-Magadan, Stalag-und-Gulag, sort of way, is a row of refugee suitcases. One could profitably spend a month in that vast so-to-speak bunker, and I think I have so far spent all of fifteen minutes.) - I gather that upon due application to it may be possible to borrow from the bunker some Cold-War-era book or other which one happens (despite one's pretty strenuous efforts at collecting) not to own, and which happens not to be on the University of Toronto Aesthonica shelves. - Additionally, I have a friend who was able to obtain, by due application to current VEMU authority Ms Piret Noorhani, a book for his own collection, to support his studies in Estonian: Ms Noorhani happened to hold her particular item in too many copies, and was therefore happy to make a donation to him. 

4.5 Resources for Course Developers

The following Web resources (which I have not investigated) might be among the starting points for professionals writing their own course materials, or in other ways planning their own educational outreach: 
[This concludes the present three-installment essay.] 

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