Every language is beautiful, if it's special to you. And an avenue into a culture in which you feel good. It could be the language of your childhood, the language of those dear to you and/or the language(s) that you associate with something intrinsically yours. A language that speaks to you, works for you and fits you, IS (at least a part of) you. Or something you want to be closer to.
What makes this attachment hard, is if you can't speak a language you enjoy as much or as often as you'd like. And it loses its ease. Like when you haven't skied in a really long time or even stretched. And you have to work on it.
But that's nothing new. Most of us have been doing that all our lives as Estonians living abroad. But with less and less people who speak if fluently, who are not just a source of inspiration, but a pure source of the language itself, with all of its expressions, word-play and witty idiosyncrasies…
Thank goodness we are now in an era where if your favourite scout/guide leader, counselor, teacher or grandparent is no longer around to talk to or listen too, you can at least virtually immerse yourself in the written or spoken word via all-manner of portable gadgets. Go get acquainted with Jänku Juss and friends (www.lastekas.ee). Yes, he might not be the purest form of art, but he's a good talker. Order Estonian books and films online, watch Estonian television online, (including coverage of ski races and soccer matches), listen to Estonian radio online (just put it on as background noise in your house), download programs onto your iPod and listen to discussions or music reviews in Estonian. On the subway.
Put on your child's CD of Estonian songs while you sit in traffic. And for crying out loud speak to other Estonians in Estonian. (How often do you chance upon another Estonian anyway?) If they don't feel comfortable answering you in the same, they won't, but it doesn't mean they don't understand and even appreciate your efforts. (RESPEKT!) It's so easy not to not bother, but soon it won't be a matter of choice, it will simply be impossible. We, the older generation still have that choice, the luxury of not making the effort to speak it, combined with the self-assuredness of knowing we always CAN. (Thanks vanaema!) But for those younger than us, the example we set and encouragement we offer might be more life- and opportunity-altering than ever before. Because the living sources of pure language are almost all gone.
It has been proven that teaching a child multiple languages from day 1 creates beneficial changes in brain chemistry and function. It changes their world and their ability to function in it. To analyse, adapt and absorb. It makes them smarter. Just like Sudoku keeps Alzheimer's away. But why not start speaking to your old friend in Estonian (again) instead? For old times sake. For your brain's sake.
I know a woman in her late 60s. She left Estonia not speaking anything (age 1,5), began her formal schooling at the Estonian (full-time) School in Stockholm and entered grade 8 upon arriving in Canada. She only spoke Estonian at home and has always spoken fluently, but has also always admitted speaking English is easier and that reading Estonian is really hard for her. This is a woman who is almost 70. I remember being shocked… But she now has had a live-in visitor from Estonia for the past 8 months. And they talk – a lot. And she says she cannot believe how much her language has improved. She beams as she tells me this. It feels good. This may be the best Estonian she's ever spoken. She's proud and relieved, since Sudoku's not her thing.
March 14th (that's 14. märts) is ema/keele/päev, Mother Language Day in Estonia. But it may well be an extra reason to celebrate Father Language Day in your home. For the past 5 years Viker/raadio has held an e-ette/ütlus (E-DICTATION) competition, read over the air. This year a record number – 3670 people typed their best version of the dictation on Vikerraadio's home page and submitted it. Prizes were awarded for the fastest error-free versions in the categories of adult, student, language expert (filoloog) and non-native speaker.
Doing it is a lot of fun, so if you want to challenge yourself and put your knowledge of written Estonian to the test, get together with a friend of family member or friend and try it out. It was in last week's Estonian section. Look for the word emakeelepäev and the number of participants (3670) in the title. Be proud! And sharp! You're not alone. Let's make sure none of us ever is.