76 percent of the Estonian population speaks a foreign language, according to census data. Russian was the most common foreign language in Estonia a decade ago, today it is English. The percentage of those who speak two foreign languages has climbed, whereas the percentage of those who speak three or more foreign languages has fallen.
84 percent of the Estonian population speaks Estonian, with 67 percent speaking it as their native language and 17 percent speaking it as a foreign language.
The number of people who speak a foreign language has increased significantly over the last three censuses. 69 percent of the population spoke a foreign language as of the 2011 census, up from 64 percent in 2000, the statistics office reported.
Every second Estonian, or 48 percent, speaks one foreign language, and every third Estonian, or 35 percent, speaks two foreign languages.
13 percent of people who speak a foreign language speak at least three foreign languages, while 3 percent speak at least four.
The proportion of people who speak one or two foreign languages has climbed from 34 percent in 2011 to 43 percent in 2021, whereas the proportion of people who speak three or more foreign languages has dropped from 17 percent to five respectively.
English is the most common foreign language in Estonia
The top three foreign languages spoken in Estonia have not changed over the course of the past three censuses.
In previous censuses, Russian was the most common foreign language in Estonia, but today English is, Liina Osila, the population and housing census project manager, said.
Today, 48 percent of the population speaks English as a second language. In 2011, it was 40 percent and 26 percent in 2000.
According to the latest census, about 39 percent of the population speaks Russian as a foreign language. In 2011, 44 percent spoke Russian as a foreign language and 43 percent in 2000.
The third most common foreign language in Estonia in all three censuses is Estonian, which is spoken by 17 percent (223,950) of the population. In 2011, 14 percent of the population spoke Estonian as a second language, up from 13 percent in 2000.
Viimsi has the highest proportion of foreign language speakers, while Sillamäe has the lowest.
Gender distribution among foreign language speakers
In total, 74 percent of men and 73 percent of women speak a foreign language, which is a fairly even gender distribution.
Distribution of foreign language speakers among age groups
There are significant variances between age groups. People between the ages of 15 and 29 have the highest number of foreign language speakers, that is, 90 percent.
The lowest percentage of foreign language speakers is seen among elderly aged 65 and over (68 percent) and the youngest age group between three and 14 years (48 percent).
Distribution of foreign language speakers by municipality
The municipality with the highest percentage of speakers of a foreign language is Viimsi with 87 percent, followed by Jõelähtme with 85 percent, and Rae and Saue, 84 percent each.
"Comparatively, 81 percent of the population in Tallinn and 82 in Tartu speak a foreign language. Municipalities in Ida-Viru County have a lower-than-average percentage of foreign language speakers. For example, 36 and 32 percent in Narva and Sillamäe, respectively," Osila said.
Finns are the most common foreign language speakers of Estonian
78 percent of Estonians can communicate in a foreign language. In comparison to other nationalities residing in Estonia, Estonians stand out for their high percentage of English speakers, 54 percent. Following them are the 44 percent of Latvians living in Estonian who speak English.
The majority of Latvians, or 53 percent, speak Russian as a foreign language, and two percentage points separate Estonians from Latvians.
Russians are the only group who speak only their native language. "40 percent of Estonia's Russian population is monolingual. For Estonians, this proportion is 19 percent," Osila said.
56 percent of Finns living in Estonia speak Estonian as a foreign language. For Russians, the proportion is 50 percent.
Estonia collected data on language competency during the Population and Housing Census conducted between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. Almost half of the population participated in the survey, and non-respondents are taken into account when calculating the breakdowns.
The census data excludes information on war refugees.
Editor: Kristina Kersa