Estonian Language Training for Adults with Other Native Languages as Part of Estonian Integration and Employment Policy: Quality, Impact and Organisation


There are nearly 300,000 adults with native languages other than Estonian living in Estonia. Half of them have active knowledge of Estonian, i.e. they understand Estonian and can speak and write it. The other half have fewer Estonian language skills and they would need language training to improve their skills. The share of people with active Estonian language skills has increased and is growing by about one percentage point per year.
The survey provides an overview of the demand for Estonian language training for adults, the views of trainers on the provision of Estonian language training, and the organisation, efficiency and effectiveness of Estonian language training provided through the unemployment fund.
The volume of state-offered Estonian language training can be as high as 6,000 participants per year. These volumes, however, have only been reached in the years when structural funding has been available. With no contribution from Structural Funds, there have been fewer than 2,000 participants in publicly funded training courses per year. At the same time, almost half of the people with a mother tongue other than Estonian, i.e. more than 100,000 people, have no active knowledge of Estonian. People with no language skills need more than one language course to gain active skills.
The survey shows that there is no direct correlation between a person’s language proficiency and his or her learning intentions. Approximately 60% of people with a mother tongue other than Estonian have the intention to study Estonian in the short or long term, and 40% do not intend to study Estonian. Most of the latter (62%) do not need to study Estonian as they already have active language skills. At the same time, there are those who do not intend to learn among those who do not have language skills, as well as those who want to carry on studying among those who already have active language skills.
There are many people with an intention to learn, but their willingness to pay for their own language tuition is low. Less than one-tenth of people with a mother tongue other than Estonian is prepared to cover the majority of the cost of their Estonian language courses. This is partly due to the fact that free Estonian language courses have always been available to some extent. On the other hand, it is also related to the priority of Estonian language learning among other adult activities.
The study concludes that in order to increase the level of proficiency in the Estonian language among the population with a mother tongue other than Estonian, it is necessary to increase the opportunities for language learning. There is a demand for language learning. However, in order to match supply and demand, language courses and other learning forms need to be flexible to fit into the everyday life of adults who have other main preoccupations. Language courses and language training must also be organised in such a way as to ensure continuity. This means that in cases where an adult is unable to continue on a course, he/she could start another course from the point where he/she left off. This requires further description of the standardised sub-levels of language proficiency.
The study was conducted at the request of the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Culture and was funded from Activity 2 “Support for knowledge-based policy formulation” of programme “Strengthening of sectoral R&D (RITA)” of the European Regional Development Fund. The study was carried out by the Estonian Centre for Applied Research (CENTAR) and Tallinn University.