Teaching of Estonian debated in the Riigikogu; learners cite problematic lack of practice (3)

Only one tenth of those who signed up for the country's free language course actually completed it. (Postimees/Scanpix)
By Vahur Lauri
4/5/2016 12:49 PM
Category: News

The teaching of the Estonian language to the country’s native Russian speakers was debated in the Riigikogu yesterday. In an interpellation submitted to the Minister of Culture, the Free Party criticized the state’s inability to teach the language to everybody interested in learning it.

Learners complained that it was difficult for them to improve at conversing freely if topics of conversation did not happen to be textbook topics, and moreover found that they lacked the daily need to communicate in Estonian at an everyday level, reported ETV news broadcast “Aktuaalne kaamera.”

The Free Party submitted an interpellation to the Minister of Culture yesterday regarding why the state does not provide enough support for the teaching of the Estonian language. Just one tenth of almost 6,000 individuals who registered for free Estonian language classes actually completed the course. Minister of Culture Indrek Saar (SDE) responded that many of those who register for the course are people who lack basic language proficiency, which should be previously acquired either in school or in paid entry-level courses, and that there was no additional funding currently available for language training.

“So many people came who lacked a basic level of instruction [in the Estonian language],” explained Saar. “This only became apparent at the end of last year, beginning of this year. We can also only plan for additional funding beginning in 2017, once we have reached an agreement on it in the state budgeting process.”

A bigger problem than funding and availability of teachers, however, seemed to be living in primarily monolingual, Russian-speaking environments.

One central Tallinn language school is attended by students who have already acquired basic proficiency in Estonian, many of whom are originally from Russia, Belarus, or Poland. They had been on the waiting list for the courses for up to half a year, but did not complain that it was a long wait. Their homework assignments were completed, and by-the-book recitations rehearsed, however conversing in Estonian still proved difficult.

Andrei Kuzitškin, originally from Russia, was himself a Russian teacher at the language school, and cited lack of opportunities to practice conversing as the reason why proficiency in the spoken language was more difficult to achieve.

“My colleagues working here at the language school — they are Estonian,” said Kuzitškin. “But when I try to speak in Estonian, it is perhaps more difficult for them and they try to speak to me in Russian.”

Other Estonian language students confirmed that they likewise lacked an everyday need to communicate in Estonian.

Kuzitškin found that more opportunities to practice were needed, that registering for exams online should be made easier, and that exams should be offered more frequently than once every three months. Still, the Russian teacher was certain that those who were truly motivated would learn the language.

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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