A new language and cultural centre, the Estonian Language House, opened in Tallinn on Wednesday. The aim of the centre, is to help non-native speakers of Estonian to develop their language skills as well as to get a better intro into Estonian culture, with a view to participating in it more fully.
The centre, at 5 Rävala Avenue in central Tallinn, reportedly offers full services in learning Estonian, with practical opportunities to work towards competency in the language, using key language learning methodologies, as well as providing comprehensive guidance on integration into Estonian society.
The centre was opened with an inaugural rining of a school bell, a building tour, and presentations and speeches. Three noted expats in Estonia who have obtained fluency in the language, startup entrepreneur Evgenia Trofimova, standup comic Stewart Johnson (US) and TV cameraman Mustafa Celik (TUR), put their language skills to the test with a ''speed talk'' contest, as part of the event.
Head of the integration foundation Irene Kaosaar said everyone whose native language is not Estonian is welcome at the centre, regardless of their present language skills, and can learn, practice or even simply listen.
"The Estonian Language House is a place where those who wish can get advice, support and practice in the language, which is the basis for finding a common language and a mental space between people of different ethnic backgrounds and native languages," Kaosaar said.
Culture minister Indrek Saar (SDE), said that every speaker of the Estonian language is an important and valuable bearer of our culture, including beyond Estonia's borders.
"The number of speakers of our beautiful language doesn't have to be limited to those who live in Estonia. The goal should be bigger; why not set in motion the words of one of the heads of the Estonian Institute, Mart Meri, whose dream was to boost the number of Estonian speakers globally to 1.5 million, as the next big goal," Mr Saar said.
Not just formal language learning
The current number of native speakers of Estonian worldwide is thought to be a little over a million, about 0.9 million of those in Estonia itself, and the rest in various countries worldwide including the US, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Australia and the Russian Federation. These figures include both recent emigré Estonians, and longer-established ''foreign Estonian'' (Väliseestlased) communities.
Manager of the language house Olga Selistseva said the centres remit went far beyond formal language learning.
"Many of the people who have come to live in Estonia have a passive command of the Estonian language, and it is our goal to offer these people as extensive opportunities as possible to practice their Estonian language. We are planning to organize language cafes, tandem learning and different events that enable language skills to develop fastest," she said, noting that the tandem learning language exchange activities should encourage native speakers of Estonian to the centre who wish to practice another language.
The existing Estonian Language House in the northeastern border town of Narva is also reportedly opening new premises this year.
The Estonian Language Houses are organized by the Integration Foundation and their activity is financed with money from the European Social Fund and by the Estonian Ministry of Culture.
Estonian citizenship requirements include Estonian language skills at B1 level.
The Estonian Language House site is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte