Estonian is one of the smallest languages in Europe, with only around a million speakers. It isn't even dominant within its own borders, with a large minority of ethnic Russians who often don't, or won't, speak Estonian. It's also not an easy language to learn, being a member of the Uralic language group that includes Hungarian and Finnish, and not a lot else.
The language may share the difficult and complex grammatical rules of Hungarian and Finnish, but thankfully, due to Estonia's diverse history, it has taken on many loan words from other languages. The strongest influence has been Germanic, which makes it much easier for speakers of those languages, like the English and especially Germans, to pick up a little Estonian.
About 25% of Estonian language is directly or indirectly related to English, coming from Low Saxon and High German. Words like pannkook (pancake), ruum (room), salat (salad) and paber (paper) will be immediately understandable to English speakers. If you understand some German you'll feel very much at home.
Many Estonians speak English, especially those who come into contact with tourists, but a few words of Estonian will make a good impression on anyone. It also shows respect to make an effort, and not assume people speak English (a sin I am often guilty of). Here are a few common examples:
tere = hello (teh-reh and roll the r)
palun = please (pa-lun)
tanan = thanks (ta-nahn)
ja = yes; ei = no (ya/aye)
vabanda = excuse me (vah-bahn-dah)
tsau = goodbye (like Italian ciao)
Some Estonian words sound very rude in English. If you want some fun, and aren't easily offended, you can ask an Estonian, preferably a woman, to say "12 months" or "1002" in English.
It's not only ethnic Estonians who live in this wonderful country --- there was a dramatic surge of immigrants coming from Russia during the Soviet rule. As a result, this is a very touchy subject for Estonians. Who is the true Estonian? It does not help that some of the Russian immigrants do not even speak the local language or Latvian. There are also several other ethnic groups like the Jews, germans, Poles... but I just hope that the whole country becomes united and come up with a new identity for the Modern Estonian
English is widely understood in Tallinn.
It seems that Tallinn is really marketing its medieval past and heritage rather than it's Russian one, trying to make a clean break, as it were.
This picture is of the Kiek in the Kok museum about Medieval Tallinn.
Stupid Me! I always thought the languages of Finland and Estonia look so alike, they have to be very similar to each other. But they aren't!! I was actually surprised to see my Finnish friend talk English in Tallinn...
See funny language pictures in my Travelogue