Being motivated, it means wanting to do something.

G. Burnett

I talk to a lot of people in my everyday life. When the topic of the Estonian language comes up, people definitely admit that it would help them with getting a job. However, there is always a ‘but’. There are many reasons people might not feel very confident in speaking Estonian: they lack the practice, they have just recently moved to Estonia, they have a busy personal life, and thus have no time for taking language courses, or it is simply difficult for them to memorise a foreign language. Whichever the case is, it all eventually comes down to motivation. 

What is motivation?

Oxford Dictionary defines motivation as follows: “the feeling of wanting to do something, especially something that involves hard work and effort” [1]. Therefore, motivation is a sort of inner power, something that helps us achieve our goals. 

In life, there are many situations that require us to give in effort. How motivated we are to do things, however, is always up to us. Everyone has their own reasons for learning, though every type of learning benefits from a balance of internal and external motivation. [2]

When it comes down to learning Estonian, the external motivation might have something to do with the right to live in Estonia for a longer period of time (applying for a residence permit). It could mean a better chance at getting a dream job or beginning studies in a field of interest. In other words, there has to be a reward, something that you will get, in exchange for putting in effort. Unfortunately, this approach only motivates a person for so long, and might not give you the result you expected.

To be successful at learning, you should have internal motivation, something that derives from within and gives strength to keep going. It is possible to achieve goals if there is an inner motivation that drives your actions. [3]

How do I find motivation?

I have studied Estonian my whole life, yet I’m still not quite sure if I know it well enough. At school, I spent 9 years learning it, and I was able to successfully take my B2 final exam at the end of it. However, when I got a job after graduating high school, it quickly became apparent that actually, I was not as good as the exam had said I was. Sure, I was able to understand both the written and verbal language. But when it came to myself, it was very hard for me to speak the language, not to mention actively participate in conversations. At school they taught us grammar and vocabulary and how to construct sentences about pictures shown to us. But what was lacking, was the tips on how to speak freely and fearlessly. That’s how I became extremely scared of making mistakes, and prefered to stay silent. 

What helped me was my work life. I have always worked in a mainly Estonian-speaking community and as time went on, I defeated my fear. Then I decided to go to university, a place where the majority of the curriculum is in Estonian. I was doing double the work – first I had to translate what was said into Russian to understand what was taught, and then I had to memorise it all in Estonian. The effort paid off and by the time I graduated, my Estonian language skills corresponded to C1 level. 

I have always acknowledged that I had to learn the language, that is why I was trying hard to find the opportunities to do so: courses, language practice and just speaking to my colleagues. I recommend you to also try and find different opportunities to practice your Estonian: do volunteer work, participate in events and try out language cafes. Getting practice gives you a sense of comfort and confidence, and it will also help you with finding and keeping motivation.

What to do if you still end up losing motivation?

I believe that everyone has experienced a moment or two of despair, that’s why I’d like to share some tips on how to keep your motivation up.

  • Ask yourself: why? Why is it so hard for you, why are you facing problems? Then follow it up with another why? Why is it that I’m studying Estonian, what opportunities does it give me in the long run? Another important question is what? What can I do to resolve these problems? What approach can I take to make it easier?
  • Ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, if you’re running into difficulties. Think about who could help you, who could say that you’re doing well and that you’ve made the right choice. Their advice and support is a big help for studying and making the right decisions. 
  • Don’t set your goals too high. For example, it is very unrealistic getting to a B2 level in just 3 months. A goal that is too unreachable will only scare you and that gives you room to think about giving up. Divide your overall target into smaller pieces and pick them up one-by-one: completing your homework by Monday, writing your essay over two weeks, signing up for the exam by the end of March. Smaller, more digestible goals are easier to track and you get the sense of ‘crossing something off your list’ more often, and that leaves less room for thoughts about giving up. 
  • Take care of yourself. Think of ways you could restore the energy you put into language learning. What is the activity that gives you strength, as opposed to using your energy. When was the last time you took a break? Make sure to allot a space in your schedule for yourself when mapping out your study plan.

And last, but certainly not least: have faith in yourself! Believe in the fact that learning Estonian is interesting, and good for you. Every little step you take is you getting closer to bettering your language skills, and every new skill opens up countless opportunities!


[1] Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, 2021. Oxford University Press. 
[2] Kadajas, H-M., 2005. Õppima õppimine ja õppima õpetamine. Tallinn: TLÜ Kirjastus.
[3] Burnett, G., 2005. Õpime õppima. Tartu: Studium.

Translated by Merilin Raidmets

Categories: Motivation


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