Kätlin Kõverik: Estonian language learning must be available across the world
People leave Estonia and return. Migration has become a daily normality, like brushing your teeth. Migration is important for a small state to ensure its viability and success. However, people have also migrated because of war, which has taken large numbers of Estonians abroad.
We would like Estonians across the globe to have a chance to learn Estonian and preserve their language skills, whatever their reasons for migrating. Over the years, several services have been developed that the Estonian state is supporting in cooperation with communities.
The Global School (Üleilmakool) is the first pillar for language studies of children and young people. This year, Üleilmakool will begin its 11th academic year. This fully online school brings together learners from across the world, but the studies are based on Estonian curricula. It uses learning materials from Estonian schools and the teachers are mostly people who are teaching in Estonian schools. This way, students of Üleilmakool will get an education that equals that offered in Estonian schools. In Üleilmakool, you can also study some subjects in Estonian, covering Estonian nature and history, including cultural history. You can study Estonian as a mother tongue or as a foreign language. The latter is important for those students who have not been given Estonian language skills at home. As the curriculum of Üleilmakooli is quite rich, taking the different levels of students into account and evolving constantly, there are exciting courses for everyone.
Online courses Keeleklikk and Keeletee are suitable for young people and adults. Keeleklikk is for beginners and Keeletee for intermediate level students. What makes these courses special is the fact that if there is something unclear online, you can write to your teachers and ask them to explain it to you. You can learn at a time and pace that suits you best.
Learning online can be exhausting, which is why it is just as important to meet other Estonians and communicate in Estonian. Language skills are maintained and developed through practice. In recent years, more Estonian communities have emerged across the world, and accordingly, there are more schools and associations. The state is offering trainings on methods and learning materials to support them. Mother Language Days are held every year for teachers, sharing pointers for conducting classes and offering experiential learning. In the coming years, we would like to create curricula to help the schools and compile learning materials.
The oldest Estonian school still operating today is in Stockholm, where it was established before the end of the Second World War. Their work is also supported by the Estonian state today. There are more day schools in Riga and elsewhere in Europe. However, it is not possible to operate a day school everywhere because the communities are smaller. This is why it is important to support the schools and associations that meet less frequently. On the one hand, the state is offering the school leaders support with trainings and learning materials, and on the other hand, we are striving to support various learning activities as much as we can. It is the role of schools and associations to offer playful activities to spark an interest in learning Estonian and maintaining language skills. We are aware that it is increasingly difficult in today’s globalised world. This is why the state would like to offer more support to teachers by providing various complementary materials and trainings. Increasingly, associations are offering online language activities, bringing together children and young people who are more dispersed. It is worth looking into the activities of the schools and associations in your neighbourhood.
If a child or youth is connected to a school format, the teacher can provide assistance to parents. They will give the best recommendations on offering language learning support at home according to their countries. Check out the GlobalEstonian.com website that is constantly updated with new information and good pointers. Speaking and placing value on speaking is essential to language learning. This is why home and friends where you can speak Estonian play a role in acquiring and maintaining language skills.
Sometimes the impetus for learning Estonian comes from visiting Estonia. This is why we are funding youth camps for expat Estonians. These language and culture camps include intense language lessons with local Estonian youth. There are camps for young adults offering information on working and studying in Estonia. We are offering scholarships for young people of Estonian origin to start vocational education or degree courses in Estonia. We have made it possible for children and young people of various ages to learn Estonian in Estonia every year.
In the coming years, we will increase support for the sustainability of teachers abroad. We have already taken the first steps. We have begun mapping learning materials. There are hundreds of free learning materials available today, with teachers and parents having to work had to find them. To simplify this work, we are creating a special corner for Estonians abroad in the e-Schoolbag application.
From birth to adulthood, there are many complementary activities that help people learn Estonian and maintain their language skills abroad. Most importantly, it is possible to start learning the language at any age and in any format.
Leading Expert - Language Policy Department
Ministry of Education and Research