Latvian belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is neither related to German or Russian though it has been influenced by both. Its only living relative is Lithuanian. Although the two languages are spoken quite differently, once you learn to read in Latvian, you will be able to understand the main points in Lithuanian texts. Approximately 1.4 million people within Latvia speak Latvian as their native language, along with another 150,000 speakers abroad. After Latvia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Latvian once again became the national language of the Republic of Latvia. Latvians generally speak a number of languages quite well. Thus, it is quite easy to get by in Latvia with either Russian or English, which is widely spoken in the cities. However, a minimal understanding of Latvian will make life a lot easier for those who wish to spend an extended period within the country. To receive Latvian citizenship, one must pass a national language exam, demonstrating Latvian proficiency. See more on Residence permit Latvia and citizenship
The good news about learning Latvian is that the grammar rules are very strict and exceptions are less common than in either English or Russian. There is no neutral gender in Latvian. Masculine nouns usually end with an "s" or a soft "s" pronounced as "sh". Feminine nouns generally end with an "a" or an "e". Certain exceptional feminine nouns end in an “s”. Following the noun rule, male first and last names in Latvia always end in “s” or “sh”, while female first and last names end in “a” or “e”. Verb conjugations follow fixed rules, with some exceptions, particularly among the most common verbs. Latvian has seven cases with which to make noun declinations, and these follow set rules with few exceptions. Despite the rigid grammar, Latvian word order is fairly flexible.
Latvian pronunciation is less difficult than many other languages because word stress is almost always placed on the first syllable, with the notable exception of “Labdien” (Hello), where the stress is placed on the second. The main difficulty in properly pronouncing Latvian is its common usage of garumzimes (long vowel signs). Many words possess long vowels, which are marked with garumzimes - a horizontal stroke above the vowel. Making an error between a short and a long vowel sign may completely change the meaning of a sentence. Though hearing the difference between long and short vowel signs is quite difficult at first, it becomes easy once a few simple rules are known. Written Latvian Written Latvian is generally phonetic and logical, with words pronounced as they are written. Unlike in English, the Latvian “J” makes a “Y” sound, which is important to note when pronouncing place names such as “Jurmala” and “Jelgava”. Other unusual letters include “Н,” which makes a soft “T” sound, with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, “П,” which makes a soft “L”, and the “Р” and “И” letters which make “sh” and “ch” respectively.