Language inspector: Who is responsible for poor Estonian in service sector?

Ilmar Tomusk, Director General of the Language Inspectorate (Keeleinspektsioon).
Ilmar Tomusk, Director General of the Language Inspectorate (Keeleinspektsioon). Source: ERR

Weak Estonian language skills among service staff in Estonia, and the creeping influence of the English language in higher education are among the major problems identified by the Language Inspectorate (Keeleinspektsioon), ERR reports.

Ilmar Tomusk, director-general at the inspectorate, says that the issue is one of responsibility as well as changes to the law where necessary.

"In fact, it is a matter of responsibility. The employer is responsible for meeting the linguistic requirements. But in the case of temporary work, the employer may be a Ukrainian or Polish company which does not know where the employee will work," Tomusk said.

"So if, for example, one of our service companies hires a temporary worker, who is responsible? In my opinion, the company that hires him or her should still be responsible, even though the employer may end up being someone else, " Tomusk continued.

A change in the language law should be considered, Tomusk feels. Recently, culture minister Tõnis Lukas proposed replacing the language inspectorate with a language board, with more powers, something which Tomusk said had raised in the past

This would make language policy competence all under the one roof, but on the other hand had not been done earlier, partly due to political reasons and also as it was decided the authority, ie. the current inspectorate, should not be involved in drafting laws. The latter is still carried out by the Riigikogu, and not by either the inspectorate or the culture ministry, Tomusk pointed out.

The issue with higher education starts at the opposite end of the educational spectrum, Tomusk claimed, at kindergarten level.

"The constitution says that everyone has the right to receive instruction in Estonian, and I believe this right should also apply in higher education institutions. As Estonian declines in higher education, it will gradually decline in general education," Tomusk said.

"When I drove a car around Tallinn a few years ago and saw an announcement that Estonian children are being offered crèches in Estonia, we can only imagine how far it could be if we gradually lose Estonian at one level or another. But that's not what we really want," Tomusk added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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