To students’ Estonian friends and partners
If you really want your companion to learn Estonian, you have to be involved. Your positive attitude and encouragement is the most important support you can offer. It would be great if you find some time regularly to help your partner or friend to practice. Speaking Estonian for 10-15 minutes each day at the kitchen table, in a car or by Skype can make a tremendous difference for them. Initially, just let them say words and phrases they know in Estonian, adding a few more each time. Soon they will be able to describe things they see and ask and answer simple questions.
Don’t be very fussy about their pronunciation. Forget about perfect “Õ”. When I go to Saaremaa, I don’t say it either. The most important in pronunciation is to get clean vowels. Especially long ones. In general, it hasn’t been a big problem once they get a little practice at the beginning. Thus, ask them just stretch simple words like viiiis, kuuus, rooosid, Eeeesti, Saaaremaaa, Hiiiiumaaa etc. Of course, English and German speakers tend to have very strong “t”. Here just ask them say “d” instead. Other than that, the pronunciation will improve itself later.
Please don’t tell your partner how awful their pronunciation or how poor their grammar is. Praise them for every little step they make – for a new expression or a little conversation with your relatives. You need to be very patient and positive even if it’s going very slowly. Learning Estonian is not easy and can be slower and more tedious than initially thought. I sometimes feel so sorry for students who, to my mind, make good progress and their pronunciation is just fine, but, who tell me their wife or boyfriend complains about their bad pronunciation, grammar etc.
It is best if you make yourself familiar with the textbook your partner uses, so you can practice with them and talk about relevant topics. Avoid explanations of grammar as much as possible – concentrate instead on everyday phrases and dialogues. Don’t expand the material you find in the textbook. Each textbook has more than enough for any student to learn.
Try to make learning Estonian an exciting and joyful experience for your friend!