International integration conference addresses multilingualism and identity

Integration Foundation logo.
Integration Foundation logo. Source: Integratsiooni Sihtasutus

A two-day international conference on integration takes place in Tallinn on Thursday and Friday, organized by the Integration Foundation (Integratsiooni Sihtasutus).

The conference, "Shared Language: Integration in Society through Multilingualism" brings together experts from Canada, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Norway, the U.K. and the U.S., as well as Estonia, and focusses on identity, education and labour market issues in the light of multilingualism and multiculturalism, according to an Integration Foundation press release.

The event is to culminate in a debate between representatives of Estonia's political parties on the topic: "Multilingual society: A bright future or the greatest threat to a nation-state?".

Keynote speaker at the conference is Copenhagen Business School emeritus professor Robert Phillipson, who will be focussing in his presentation on problems related to the spread of English as the universal language of communication. In his view the importance of English is growing throughout Europe as well as in the functions and activities of many EU institutions, reinforcing the supremacy of the language and pushing others aside in the process, including minority languages. He considers it important to ensure that every EU Member State has an officially established and implemented language policy which is capable of maintaining a sustainable balance between national and foreign languages at all levels of education.

Other speakers include head of recruitment at sales app company Pipedrive Mirjam Laurisaar, who will be discussing issues the company has faced in triking a balance between accepting the diversity of its team and preserving the Estonian identity of the company, Head of the Department of Language and Linguistics of the University of Essex (England) Monika S. Schmid, looking at her research into the loss of a person's first language due to their living and working in a foreign-language environment, as well as University of Edinburgh (Scotland) Professor of Developmental Linguistics Antonella Sorace and Florida Atlantic University (U.S.) professor Erika Hoff.

The conference will end with a debate between representatives of Estonian political parties on the topic "Multilingual society: A bright future or the greatest threat to a nation-state?". The debate will be chaired by ERR journalist Jüri Nikolajev.

The conference is to be opened by culture minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa), who has spoken on the topic recently.

Ahead of the event, Lukas said that: "Estonians have always considered it important to know other languages."

"This has helped people get by in Estonia, where throughout history the impact of a wide range of languages and cultures have been felt. It also means we're able to cope nowadays when we go abroad to work or study. That's why we're not afraid of other languages, but open as a society," Lukas went on.

"At the same time, our national language is Estonian and our aim is to ensure the preservation of our people, culture and language – which is why Estonian dominates here and why it's important that people can get by using it everywhere in the country. The state makes it possible for people who live here who come from other national backgrounds to learn the language so that there's no cultural segregation and everyone has the chance to play an active role in society," he added.

The working language of the conference will be English, with simultaneous interpreting into Estonian and Russian.

Those wishing to participate in the conference, which is being organized by the Integration Foundation in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and the foreign representations of Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany andthe U.S., as well as the British Council in Estonia, and other partners, can do so by registering here. The venue is the Radisson Blu Hotel Olümpia in central Tallinn.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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