With the arrival of autumn, thousands of adults who want to learn Estonian also embarked on a new learning journey. The Integration Foundation, which is part of the Ministry of Culture, offers them suitable opportunities. Its director, Dmitri Moskovtsev, talks about the work and challenges of the season.
How many language learners have now taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the Integration Foundation? How many more people will you try to involve this academic year?
In 2023, we will offer a total of around 11,800 study places (as of October). In the second half of the year, around 5,100 learners will be studying Estonian in the framework of various programmes, 2,100 of whom are Ukrainian beneficiaries of temporary protection. During the summer, 80 people practised their Estonian in a language immersion camp. Starting in the autumn, several hundred people will be able to take part in field trips introducing the Estonian cultural space and other activities to develop their communication skills. You can also learn and practice Estonian in language clubs and language cafés, which are attended by 320 people. In addition to proficiency courses, the Estonian language houses offer specialised courses designed to help language learners improve their skills. Special courses have proved to be very popular and focus on, for example, pronunciation, grammar practice, and Estonian culture.
What opportunities do you offer language learners this year? What are your priorities in doing so?
We offer traditional language courses in both contact and online formats. Language courses may not be suitable for everyone, so we also offer a range of activities to support language learning, such as language camps, study trips, communication practice, hobby groups, and workshops. The language is learned through active and engaging activities, where you can learn more about Estonian culture.
The priority is to design a holistic integration pathway for people, where language learning plays a key role, but other aspects are also important. In the near future, in cooperation with museums, there are plans to offer more educational programmes in simple Estonian, combining language practice with learning about history and heritage. In the next few years, we will offer a labour mobility programme for public sector workers whose mother tongue is not Estonian. For example, teachers can spend a few weeks working in an Estonian-speaking environment elsewhere in Estonia, getting to know new colleagues. Similar activities help find common ground and build contacts between different people.
Which options have proven themselves over time? And are increasingly popular?
There is a strong interest in communicative language courses, with places filling up in the first few hours after registration opens. Language camps, specialised courses (pronunciation, writing, etc.), language clubs and language cafés are popular and have proved their worth. In Narva, special projects have also proved their worth over the years, aiming to create a language environment for language learners and provide an Estonian-language network. Since 2021, special projects such as the rap-opera ‘Karma’, the film academy and the fashion academy ‘Fashion Revolution’ (Moepööre) have taken place in Narva. Participants in the project learned about theatre, film, and fashion in Estonian and got to know top artists from different fields. Some of the participants went on to study at universities or to promote their personal businesses after participating in the project.
The Integration Foundation has become one of the most important links in Estonian language learning. What role is entrusted to your team?
Our role in the field of Estonian language learning started to grow and strengthen five years ago, when we opened the doors of the Estonian Language House in Tallinn and Narva in January 2018, and then in October of the same year. It is based on an innovative principle: knowledge of Estonian is a means for different people in Estonia to better understand each other. That is why, in addition to Estonian language courses, we offer a range of opportunities to combine language learning with everyday activities. While at the beginning we were involving Estonian permanent residents, now you see more and more new Estonian citizens in our classes and at our events.
Since the spring of this year, the Ministry of Culture has entrusted us with the implementation of the Settle In Estonia adaptation programme for new immigrants, which includes Estonian language training. In cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, we will also offer an adaptation programme and inclusive activities for beneficiaries of international protection. This allows us to design a comprehensive pathway for people who come to Estonia, from settling in and learning the language to active participation in Estonian cultural and social life.
What goal do you see for your team? For the organisers of Estonian language learning in general?
Our goal is to develop, in cooperation with our partners, an inclusive and dynamic Estonian language learning journey that supports all learners and contributes to the cohesion of Estonian society. First and foremost, it is important to provide high quality and effective Estonian language teaching that meets learners’ needs and helps them achieve real and practical results. This includes both traditional learning methods and innovative approaches that enable learners to acquire the language faster and more effectively. Secondly, we are constantly looking for new methods and solutions to make learning Estonian even more accessible, interesting, and effective. Extending self-learning, including through the use of digital tools, is essential. Thirdly, we help language learners to discover the local culture, including by finding suitable and interesting language practice opportunities. Hundreds of volunteers, who are willing to spend their free time communicating with language learners about life and circumstances in Estonian, are a great help here.
What does your team need in the short term to achieve this? The whole area?
As interest in learning Estonian is growing faster than the opportunities to teach it, we cannot neglect to mention developments and resources. Here are two innovations that do not require much extra money. First of all, all of us who speak Estonian could also speak to Estonian learners in this beautiful language. Secondly, all the organisers of cultural events should be more open to involving people from other cultures in their activities – so that we can live together in Estonia with greater mutual understanding.
Jana Tondi, Head of Language Learning Activities at the Integration Foundation: ‘Language learning opportunities are organised as needed!’
‘We map the needs of language learners during the counselling process and, based on the results we organise and provide the necessary learning opportunities (courses, language support activities, learning materials). We map your needs first and foremost during the free counselling we offer to all language learners. To register for counselling, please contact us by email at [email protected] or call 800 9999 (free of charge). Self-service is open to everyone around the clock. In this online portal, you can independently discover the different Estonian language learning opportunities available to you, register and keep an eye on your studies. To make it as easy as possible to keep track of learning opportunities, we try to publish information about learning opportunities and open registration at the same time and place – Thursdays at 2 p.m. at the self-service (see link). At the same time, we duplicate the information on the website calendar (see link) and publish reviews on social media (see Tallinn Estonian Language House account and see Narva Estonian Language House account on Facebook). With the consultations and the self-service portal, we want to ensure the better availability of Estonian language learning as well as simplify learning the language and increase the quality of language training. As a result of these changes, we will provide opportunities for Estonian language learners to learn and practise the language according to their needs and language ability.’