Emine Cetinkaya: I enrolled in the Language Friends programme just out of curiosity, but completed it with pure joy!

The Integration Foundation launched the Language Friends programme in 2020 to provide language learners with the opportunity to continue practising language online due to the emergency situation in effect at the time. The programme got off to a good start and has continued successfully also after the end of the emergency situation. To this day, a total of 5,365 language learners have taken part in the programme. This year, the largest number of people so far – 827 learners and 810 mentors – found a language friend.

Emine Cetinkaya: I enrolled in the Language Friends programme just out of curiosity, but completed it with pure joy!

Mailis Sütiste-Gnannt, an Estonian national who is a German and Estonian language teacher, freelance journalist, interpreter, and translator living in Guermantes, near Paris, France for most of the year, was a mentor to Emine Cetinkaya, a Turkish housewife living in Tallinn, for two and a half months this spring. The women kindly agreed to share with us their impressions of the journey they had together.

How did you benefit from participating in the programme and what did you like most about it?

Emine: It is always exciting to meet new people. My language partner Mailis is a wonderful person. We chatted on Skype on Tuesdays for 30–40 minutes at a time. Mailis also wrote down the words and expressions that came up during the conversation in the chat window and explained the grammar with different examples if necessary. That was particularly useful, as I now always have the option to review the words if I happen to forget something.

Mailis: I have been involved in the Language Friends programme since the beginning and this was my fifth season. It is great to help others and especially to encourage them to speak our language. My language friend Emine is warm like the sun, always cheerful and very positive. I learned a lot of interesting things about Turkish life, customs, and food. She was always happy to talk about what she is doing and share her recipes. The interviews also coincided with the Ramadan period, when she ate nothing and drank no water from sunrise to sunset. It is amazing how much willpower a person must have to do this.

What was the most challenging part for you?

Emine: The most difficult part was definitely the grammar. It is hard! Mailis explained the different rules to me over and over again and I also reviewed everything I was learning in the Estonian language course. Mailis was a great support to me!

Mailis: We did not really encounter anything too complicated. The only misunderstanding we had was not because of the language at all, but because Estonia and France have a time difference and there was a small misunderstanding about the time of our meeting.

Why should other language learners and mentors participate in the programme?

Emine: That is because we only speak Estonian here and these conversations are very practical. I wish to continue participating in the programme as well. I feel it is very necessary for me. I think the programme could be even longer; I would like to speak Estonian much more!

Mailis: It is great to contribute and help language learners of other nationalities. It is also an enriching experience for you, as you can broaden your world view with new insights into other cultures and customs.

Do you plan to continue your conversations in the future?

Mailis: We only got to see each other in real life for the first time in the Estonian Language House in Tallinn after the official programme had ended. We took a picture together and afterwards sat in a café and chatted about our lives and the weather. We will definitely meet again when I come back to Estonia this summer. Emine’s firm wish is to provide us with home-made Turkish food.

Emine: The programme is not actually over for us yet. We continue to chat online every Tuesday morning, just as we did during the study period. We have probably missed the meeting only once or twice. I am really looking forward to our new meetings!