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Expert criticizes state integration program for Russian-speaking children

The Estonian Language House in Narva
The Estonian Language House in Narva Source: Integration Foundation

Local Russian-speaking children who want to learn the Estonian language through state integration programs which involve living with Estonian-speaking families, have found that there are no places available. The state integration program has also been criticized by some experts, who suggest different approaches to language learning would be more effective.

Being fully immersed in an Estonian-speaking environment, while in a warm, homely atmosphere, and having plenty of opportunities to communicate in Estonian with their peers - isn't that the best way for local Russian-speaking schoolchildren to learn the state language? This kind of program already exists in Estonia. However, places are snapped up in an instant, and there aren't that many available in the first place. In fact, there are only enough spaces for 180 children to participate each year, with each camp lasting just ten days during the summer.

"They live the everyday life of (their host) family. They learn the language, go on trips, play different games, and in their free time they meet other similar families. In that way, they learn the language," explained Jana Tondi, head of language learning activities at the Development Center of the Integration Foundation.

The camps are so popular that, this year places ran out in May, almost immediately after registration opened. However, according to representatives of the Integration Foundation, at the moment, demand does not exceed the supply, with additional opportunities available for those who want to learn Estonian.

"There are opportunities (for children) to learn Estonian together with their parents. We offer these kinds of camps, which last two days. They will take place on July 23-24 and July 30-31 in Paldiski and Vasalemma, which are both in Lääne-Harju County," said Tondi.

But the number of places there are also limited, with only 40 able to participate over the two camps.

According to Natalya Kitam, founder of Multikey Online language school, this is just a drop in the ocean and will not solve the problem of integration.

"The problem is that there is the offer of these cakes, when there is no bread," said Kitam.

"This is the biggest and most global problem and the integration program, in which there is no specific indicator of improvement in the Estonian language skills of the population as a whole," Kitam said.

According to OSCE statistics released by the Integration Foundation, only 21 percent of the country's non-Estonian population believe they speak Estonian well.

"We have to provide options that allows us to learn right now instead of waiting in line for years," Kitam said.

According to Kitam, there are three objective indicators of proficiency in the state language: passing independent examinations, receiving education in the Estonian language and working as part of an Estonian-speaking team.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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