Settle in Estonia: Language study essential to make most of opportunities

The Settle in Estonia national adaptation training program.
The Settle in Estonia national adaptation training program. Source: Settle in Estonia

Over the last year, thousands of foreign nationals took part in training programs provided by Settle in Estonia. According to a Martin Lään, who organizes Settle in Estonia's training courses, learning the Estonian language is essential when living in the country, to ensure foreigners can take advantage of all the opportunities available.

Settle in Estonia, a free national adaptation program, is now in its eighth year of providing training programs to help foreigners adapt to living in Estonia.

According to a Settle in Estonia press release, this year, a total of nearly 2,200 people took part in the organization's training courses. "Language classes account for a third of all courses taken, which is logical," said Martin Lään, who organizes Settle in Estonia's training courses.

"For foreigners who wish to lead an active life in Estonia, learning Estonian is absolutely essential. Otherwise, he or she may not be able to take advantage of the many opportunities available," he said. "Estonians do also speak other languages, so of course, it's possible to get things done in other ways. However, in that case, a foreigner will forever remain like a tourist in Estonia," said Lään.

According to Lään, thanks to Estonians' strong language skills, no foreigner should have any difficulty getting help, or directions in another language.

Settle in Estonia's second most popular course among foreigners is the "Basic module," which provides answers to the most frequently asked and general questions about life in Estonia. The organization's third most popular course is the "Work module," which is about working in Estonia. A number of other more specific courses are also available.

Estonia's integration programs differ from those of neighbors

According to Kerli Zirk, advisor in the Ministry of Culture's cultural diversity department, the state has tried to find as many ways as possible to help foreigners settle in better to life in Estonia, as well as to disseminate information about the adaptation program.

"In an e-state, information is often transferred automatically as soon as a foreigner receives their residence permit, said Zirk.

"However, we also need to bear in mind that not all foreign nationals arriving in Estonia are necessarily as tech-savvy as we are used to being here. This is why adaptation training will continue to take place in both online and face-to-face formats," she added.

According to the press release, Estonia's adaptation program differs from those offered by neighboring countries. "For example, this year we created a separate training module specifically for war refugees from Ukraine, which is not even  offered by many countries, which are much closer to Ukraine," said Zirk.

Zirk also pointed out, that the Settle in Estonia adaptation program is available not only for third-country nationals but also for those from EU countries, which is not so common elsewhere.

According to Zirk, the desire to contribute to improving the integration of foreign citizens into society, is undoubtedly a two-way street. "On the one hand, as a host country, we have a duty and a desire to create good opportunities for foreigners to move here. On the other hand, we want to better integrate people who come here into society, so that they want to be part of our environment and thus contribute to our economy," said Zirk.

Foreigners most interested in practical issues.

Although the adaptation program includes a general cultural overview of Estonia's customs and traditions, according to Lään, who coordinates the training, practical day-to-day issues are still the main priority for foreigners.

"Medicine, the local real estate market, finding and applying for a job, schools and kindergartens - these are the top topics, which are all driven by practical needs," said Lään, adding that a large number of questions also arise about migration procedures, including those related to renewing, changing or applying for residence permits, as well as changing jobs.

"Over the past eight years, the program has clearly found its place and been recognized among foreigners in Estonia, as well as those who are planning to come to Estonia (in the future)," Lään said.

"It is well known as a place where you can get free, quality language training and information about life in Estonia. Growing awareness of the program has, in turn, increased the number of people in the groups, and course participation has steadily increased over the years," he said.

However, the additional challenges faced this year have further underscored the need for the program, and the courses organized specifically for war refugees from Ukraine have also been very well attended.

Willingness to learn and adapt is critical

According to Kerli Zirk, the need to adapt to change does not only apply to those foreign citizens who arrive in Estonia, but also to the content of courses offered as part of the program.

"We are moving in the direction of making the training more compact and including more independent learning. We are also considering adding higher language levels to the A1 and A2 (currently available)," said Zirk.

According to Lään, the program could also incorporate more practical activities in the future, such as field trips to the Kumu Art Museum and the Arvo Pärt Center in Tallinn or to the Song Festival.

Lään also shared some advice for those arriving in Estonia, who want to integrate more into the local culture and environment.

"It's definitely important to be precise, especially with any documentation. In Estonia, you go by what's written down - whether it's the law or an employment contract - and ignorance is no excuse. That can often come as a surprise to those who arrive here," Lään said.

"It is also worth knowing that the PPA (Police and Border Guard Board) is not to be feared, but rather a place you can go to for advice. It is also a good idea for newcomers to join different networks and social media groups for foreigners," he added.

"An active - but not aggressive - attitude and mindset are also key to help you settle in more smoothly. If you have the slightest interest or desire to find out what a cold country it is here, where the people seem closed but are also very warm, you'll certainly be able to get to know Estonia in no time!" Lään said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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