This article analyses the state language requirements, their purpose and implementation in the labour market, as well as the attitudes of Estonian residents toward them. The impact of state language skills requirements, language preparation when entering the labour market and improvement of language skills through courses directed to the work-force are mapped as well. Use of other languages in the working environment, their mutual relations and their connection with the state language, the reasons for the implementation of the requirements, as well as the functional domains and regions are described briefly, together with options offered through the educational system for the purpose of entering the contemporary labour market, which requires knowledge of several languages.

The functional domains of the languages and their availability and prestige determine language status on the whole. Most important are those related to the elite of society or that have an extensive influence (e.g. in education, entertainment, communication). These are mainly linked to jobs where language skills are prescribed. Simultaneously, threats to the sustainable development of a language differ. Language security is usually defined as absence of threats. These may be exo-language (wars, natural disasters, epidemics, etc.) as well as endemic factors. The latter, causing language shifts (the language A is chosen instead of the language B), manifest themselves in three different types (Rannut et al. 2003):

  • Territorial threats, where a different language is used in a part of the territory of the state concerned. In this case confrontation based on different languages may emerge easily and spread also to other social contexts.
  • Social threats, where a specific stratum or group within society uses a different language (e.g. immigrants) that through interaction with other factors might cause segregation, thus challenging mainstream society.
  • Virtual threats that imply no direct contact with non-native speakers, but which, through implementation of means providing a virtual language environment, such as foreign language-medium TV-programmes, social networks and other virtual net modalities and their extensive use in the work environment (e.g. global/regional systems of providing services, webinars and other programmes of communication) the status of the languages used therein rises and thus displaces the languages used previously in these domains (e.g. science, education, entertainment, etc.).

Language shift is not only the substitution of one language for another, it is foremost an issue of national and ethnic security (its identity and ongoing survival), and of economic competition and only secondarily a specific issue of culture.

In order for the labour market to function efficiently the so-called Commmon Language Principle must be applied at large (Fishman 1972, 1991). This principle requires policy regulation at the national level, which determines the national/state language or the official language of the state. The Estonian language is constitutionally the state language, as well as being the sole official language. This language is used for passing laws; in the work of the Parliament and civil service in general; in the operation of the Armed Forces; in the judicial system; and as the main language of the educational system. The state language is the means of communication between natural and legal persons with the state. The data presented and/or received from the state is in Estonian. Media and entertainment is also mostly in Estonian. The aim of the state language regulation is to eliminate barriers in communication and conducting business, and to create a supporting environment for preventing language conflicts. The right to communicate and conduct business in the state language is also a specific human right (Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas 1994; de Varennes 1996) that is based on internationally-accepted human rights standards; however its specific scope is regulated in detail by corresponding domestic law. Thus, this right covers various forms of conducting business, including that between private enterprises and their communication with private persons. It is important to note that the right (as well as the obligation to know the language) is valid also in the situation where the number of state language users is minute and one may cope using some other language instead. This relates to the so-called symbolic function of the state language as exemplified by the European Human Rights Court case Groener vs Ireland, 1989, where a national of the Netherlands working as a teacher of art in a school in Dublin was fired due to insufficient knowledge of the Irish language, though there was no need to use it for the job. In its decision the EHRC confirmed the legitimacy of the domestic verdict. However, this does not legitimise interference in private life. Thus, outside the domains mentioned above, everyone has the right to use their language according to his/ her choice with family, relatives, friends, and with one’s ethnic community. In addition, in Estonia the law requires knowledge of the Estonian language not from the whole working staff, but only from those filling positions that specifically require the corresponding language proficiency.

In Estonia the Estonian language was reinstated as the constitutional state language in 1988. The Language Act of January 18, 1989 established the use of the Estonian language in communication and business as a specific human right. This principle has been included in all of the subsequent Language Acts (1995, 2011). According to Article 8(1) of the current Language Act (2011):  (1) Everyone has the right to access the public administration in the Estonian language in oral or written form in state agencies, including the foreign representations of Estonia, local government authorities, at the offices of notaries, bailiffs and sworn translators and their bureaus, cultural autonomy bodies and other agencies, companies, non-profit associations and foundations registered in Estonia. In order to guarantee the corresponding right the state has established specific requirements in Article 23 for proficiency and use of the Estonia language for employees and workers in the above-mentioned institutions.

  1. Officials and employees of state agencies and of local government authorities, as well as employees of legal persons in public law and agencies thereof, members of legal persons in public law, notaries, bailiffs, sworn translators and the employees of their bureaus shall be able to understand and use Estonian at the level which is necessary to perform their service or employment duties.
  2. The requirement for employees of companies, non-profit associations and foundations and for sole proprietors, as well as the members of the board of the non-profit associations with compulsory membership, to be proficient in Estonian to the level that is necessary to perform their employment duties shall be applied if it is justified in the public interest.

The requirements for officials, employees and sole proprietors have been established in detail by Regulation No 84 (2011), the content of which stems from a regulation of the Labour Committee (1990), providing a taxonomy based on work situations and language use in the respective positions of the employees. The mandatory levels of language proficiency have been established based on the language proficiency levels defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages compiled by the Council of Europe. In this document ‘A’ denotes beginner’s level, ‘B’ the intermediate and ‘C’ denotes the advanced level of language proficiency. The governmental level establishes the requirements at minimal levels - thus the employer has the right to establish language requirements for a specific position higher than those specified by the Government, but not higher than the language proficiency level C1. This specific restriction was imposed through a recent amendment, the legitimacy and sense of which are arguable: the respective constraint is applied only in the case of the Estonian language and is not extended to other languages. Simultaneously, the constraint does not apply outside the jurisdiction of Estonia and thus, language proficiency exams on higher levels are conducted elsewhere, for example by the European Commission. Having such a constraints places Estonia in a quite exceptional position, as C2-level language proficiency exams are conducted in 5 European states, while exams measuring language proficiency higher than C1 are conducted in a number of states.

Language proficiency at the beginner’s level (A-level) as a minimum is required from persons whose service obligations or working tasks are detailed, routine and restricted in scope, and where the written part entails filling out routine predesigned forms. These are mostly employees performing technical and supporting tasks, such as drivers, stokers and others with similar tasks.

Language proficiency at the intermediate level (B-level) as a minimum is required from persons whose service obligations or working tasks are diverse and may be related to conducting business, managing a unit or cooperation, as well as related to drafting documents necessary at work (with a predesigned content). For example, the B-1 level is required from service and sales staff, social service and rescue workers, and in positions in private business that require communication and conducting business in general. The B2-level is mandatory for specialists in general working at state institutions managed by central and local governments, as well as working for public legal persons and their institutions and filling positions requiring high or special secondary education.

Language proficiency at the advanced level (C-level) is required from persons whose service obligations or working tasks are related to leading a unit, planning and coordinating activities, as well as counselling, drafting public presentations, speeches and official texts. Thus, it is mandatory for clerks and for heads of divisions, their deputies and top specialists of state institutions, whose work is related to formal language management and document drafting or whose language domain in employment is unrestricted.

Table 4.4.1. Description of the language proficiency levels

  Basic user
A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce themselves and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people they know and things they have. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly, and is prepared to help.
A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of the most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need in simple terms.
  Independent user
B1 Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations that are likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce a simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
  Proficient user
C1 Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
C2 Mõistab pikki ja keerukaid tekste, tabab ka varjatud tähen­dust. Oskab end spontaanselt ja ladusalt mõiste­tavaks teha, väljendeid eriti otsimata. Oskab kasutada keelt paindlikult ja tule­muslikult nii avalikes, õpi- kui ka tööoludes. Oskab luua selget, loogilist, üksik­asjalikku teksti keerukatel teemadel, kasutades sidus­vahendeid ja sidusust loovaid võtteid.
C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

Source: Language Act, Appendix 1

As a historical parallel one may draw attention to the requirements for proficiency in the Estonian language that proved to be efficient and which were established earlier in history for some positions, for example at the beginning of the 16th century by the Bishop Johannes IV Kievel for clergy, and in the 17th century during the reign of Sweden for state officials working in Estonia. The first Language Act of the Republic of Estonia containing the corresponding regulatory principle was adopted in 1934 and entered into force the next year. During the Soviet occupation (1940-41 and 1944-1989) until the adoption of the Language Act of the Estonian SSR, there were no explicit language regulations. Most language choices in institutions were in accordance with the Soviet Union or local regulations. In all ministries and enterprises under Union subordination, the language of communication was Russian, and Estonian language proficiency was not required. Further, any attempt to draw attention to the use of Estonian was regarded as a phenomenon of nationalism. In order to cater to the needs of new, mostly Russian-speaking immigrants (the share of whom in Estonia rose between 1945-1989 from 2.7% to 36%) the Russian-medium network of pre-school institutions, schools, clubs and social services was created, where the Estonian language was of no use. Estonian was still formally included to a modest degree in the curriculum of Russian schools, but nevertheless often neglected, since children of several professional groups (e.g. military corps, party functionaries and others with rotating positions) had the right to exemption. During the last years of the Soviet occupation the top management of Estonia increased Russian-medium bureaucracy (at the cost of Estonian), especially concerning the leadership: the local Communist Party and government officials. As a consequence of this, according to the 1989 census data, only 14% of the local Russian population knew Estonian to any extent.

Estonia is quite similar to its neighbouring countries concerning language regulation: language acts have been adopted in Latvia, Finland, Russia and Sweden and language requirements in the labour market have been introduced in Latvia, Finland and Russia. The main difference here is in the starting point - the restitution of sovereignty in 1991 - which due to the neglect of human rights on the part of the previous non-democratic regime of the Soviet-occupation had created the misunderstanding among the immigrant non-Estonian population that learning the Estonia language and integrating with the local culture and society is not necessary.

Estonia has also regulated the legal use of other languages in various domains and regions. There is an option to implement bilingual business and communication in official and public use in the regions with linguistic minorities. In addition, through cultural autonomy arrangements, this agenda has also been adopted by Ingrian Finns (2004) and Estonian Swedes (2007). Permission for internal bilingual public administration may be given to a local government by the Government of Estonia, and the local governments of Sillamäe and Narva have applied for it; however, the applications have been declined for justifiable reasons. In addition, communication and business is allowed by governmental regulation in some domains, such as tourism, customs and foreign trade. Oral communication with officials is also allowed in other languages in accordance with the respective officials.

Concerning the state, language choice outside of relevant restrictions is free, foremost in the private sphere. Internal language communication by private enterprises and organisations is not controlled by the state and therefore there are a number of other companies besides Estonian-medium ones that generally use English or Russian as the common language. In addition, different languages may be used at various levels of operation (for example, in the case of foreign banks and other International companies). Thus, specialists employed in private business and having no direct communication with customers need not master Estonian.

Language regulation in Estonia is remarkably restricted in comparison with other states: according to Article 2 of the Language Act, the use of the Estonian language and foreign languages are regulated only in oral and written administrative communications, in public information and service, in the use of Estonian sign language and signed Estonian language, in the requirements for and assessment of proficiency in the Estonian language, in the exercise of state supervision over compliance with the requirements and on the basis thereof, and regarding liability for the violation of the requirements of the Act. In addition, the use of language of legal persons in private law and natural persons is regulated only if it is justified for the protection of fundamental rights or in the public internest, which includes public safety, public order, public administration, education, health, consumer protection and occupational safety. The establishment of requirements concerning use of and proficiency in Estonian must be justified and in proportion to the objective being sought, and shall not distort the nature of the rights which are restricted.

Such restrictive constraints to the state language regulation are absent in other states (excluding Latvia). Some of these constraints have been used in minority language regulation, and from there these have been adapted to the Language Act of Estonia. However, the principle of minority language regulation in international law prohibiting any activity or action to the detriment of the state language has been left out.

Actual use of the Estonian language

When language regulations were introduced during the years 1989-1990, the number of Russian-speakers affected by this language requirement was estimated to be around 80,000 workers. Based on this data a system was designed to govern language teaching, assessment and control. Currently the number has risen due to the increase in the share of services provided in society, while at the same time the language skills of the non-Estonian population have improved. According to the 2011 census data (REL 2011) those proficient in the Estonian language among native non-Estonian speakers constitute 42%, according to their self-assessment. Self-assessment-based language skills were measured in more detail in the survey conducted by the Estonia Institute of Human Rights in 2015 (IÕI 2015, see Table 4.4.2). Naturally the data on language proficiency varies significantly, depending on the respondent’s age, place of residence and educational level: among those less than 35 years of age with higher education, more than half are proficient in Estonian at a competent level, while in Ida-Viru county only 42% are able to speak Estonian at the beginner level. However, this should still be regarded as progress, as one generation earlier, in 1989, the total share of non-Estonians having skills in Estonian at some level constituted 14%. Comparing the EIHR survey data with several earlier ones (e.g. IM 2015, IM 2013, etc.) it appears that the Estonian-language proficiency of native Russian speakers has been considerably overestimated; thus upgrading language learning and building motivation for proficiency is still a real concern.

Table 4.4.2. Self-assessed Estonian language skills of native Russian speakers

  Estonia Tallinn Ida-Viru County
Am fluent 13% 14% 5%
Understand, speak and write a little 25% 32% 13%
Understand and speak a little 25% 28% 24%
Understand, but do not speak 25% 20% 36%
Do not understand 12% 6% 22%
  15–24 yoa. 25–34 yoa. 35–49 yoa. 50–64 yoa.
Am fluent 22% 26% 12% 6%
Understand, speak and write a little 32% 33% 30% 23%
Understand and speak a little 29% 19% 25% 29%
Understand, but do not speak 14% 16% 28% 27%
Do not understand 3% 6% 5% 15%
  Primary/basic education Secondary/vocational education Higher education
Am fluent 19% 7% 25%
Understand, speak and write a little 23% 24% 27%
Understand and speak a little 14% 27% 26%
Understand, but do not speak 26% 29% 18%
Do not understand 18% 13% 4%

Source: Estonian Institute of Human Rights 2015

According to survey results from the Estonian Human Rights Institute (IÕI 2015), the majority of Russian-speaking respondents had acquired proficiency in the course of practical training (57%). A total of 39% had picked up the language in Russian-language schools, and 23% at language courses. This likely characterised school graduates’ modest language skills in the past, as nowadays language learning in general educational schools is significantly more effective, as demonstrated by the high Estonian-proficiency grade in the up-to-34 age group. At the same time, the segregated environment is a key impediment to improving and reinforcing Estonian proficiency, as it does not promote the retention of Estonian proficiency by way of practice.

The better the language proficiency, the more the language has been learned at school and through practical communication and, in the case of younger respondents, in early childhood at school and pre-school.

Age makes a difference in language acquisition. Younger ones have acquired Estonian in early childhood and at school, where language-teaching requirements have been upgraded considerably during the last twenty years. Among 65-year-olds and older, one third has never studied Estonian. The reason for this is usually due to being first-generation immigrants, who have acquired their education outside Estonia. There were also a number of ways of avoiding learning Estonian for those who considered it unnecessary, as legal acts and schools themselves offered various solutions for avoidance.

Language courses have been, on average, more important for people who have medium proficiency in Estonian. Of those who have attended courses and taken the official Estonian examination, the largest share have attained the B2 (33%) or B1 (24%) levels.

As most of those who have passed the national language exam are less than 40 years old and have thus studied Estonian at school during the period of the restituted Republic of Estonia, it is not, for them, a matter of language acquisition, but rather of refreshing their language skills. However, the number of those passing the highest, C-level language exam is marginal.

Estonian proficiency and the importance ascribed to the proficiency are also correlated. Respondents who do not consider Estonian proficiency to be important do not make efforts to acquire the language, either. It is likely that Estonian proficiency is not necessary for them in their professional lives and thus there is no instrumental motivation for learning the language.

The main obstructing factor for improving language skills is segregation (Rannut 2005, IÕI 2015, Mägi et al. 2016, Leetmaa 2017): the Russian-speaking population is of considerable size and has concentrated in the cities of Ida-Viru county and in specific districts of Tallinn. Social networks in Estonia are language-specific also, together with information and media preferences and virtual entertainment (IÕI 2015, Vihalemm & Leppik 2017). Estonian broadcasts do not make it into the top 100 of the most watched TV broadcasts by the Russian-speaking population. Estonian media channels are neither watched nor trusted by them, while Russian media is trusted by 33%, the corresponding number for Estonian media is only 5% (IÕI 2015). Living in the Russian media space results in alienation from the rest of Estonian society for the bulk of the Russian-speaking population.

It is important to note that contacts with Estonians at work and during study periods, but not during leisure time, creates among Russian speakers the feeling that their human rights are violated on ethnic or linguistic grounds. This may be explained through competition in employment and education, which might place Russian speakers with insufficient Estonian language proficiency in a more vulnerable position compared to Estonians.

Estonian-language skills are acquired mostly in everyday communication. Therefore the degree to which Estonian-speakers and Russian-speaking people communicate with each other is of key importance. More than half of the Russian-speaking population has contacts with Estonian-speaking co-workers or fellow students. Hobbies and business activities seem to remain more centred on the native language - on the other hand, only one third of Russian-speaking respondents have Estonians among business and cooperation partners. The correlation here undoubtedly goes both ways: people of other ethnicities who have better Estonian proficiency more easily strike up a relationships with Estonians, and closer relations with Estonians also contribute to improved language proficiency.

Segregation is increased and Estonian language learning obstructed by a preference for Russian: in various social situations, Russian-speakers prefer to use mainly Russian. In dealings with their Estonian-speaking acquaintances or co-workers, two-thirds use mainly Russian, while only one-fourth prefer to communicate in Estonian. Non-Estonians living outside Tallinn and Ida-Viru County are more likely to use Estonian, and the same is true for younger respondents

In general, Russian-speaking people do not try to speak in Estonian as much as possible or to improve their Estonian ability. They prefer strategies of convenience and will use Russian even if they are fluent in Estonian. Only one-half of respondents who speak other native languages, and who deem their Estonian proficiency to be good, use it in communication. Use is marginal among those who rate their Estonian proficiency lower. Avoiding communication in Estonian leads to its attrition and builds up psychological barriers against its use in the future.

A large share of communication meets the A2 linguistic proficiency level, especially in service situations. Such elementary daily language use would offer important support not only for acquisition of common phrases but also for expanding vocabulary, acquiring new grammatical constructions, reducing one’s accent and better understanding conversational partners. Russian speakers are unfortunately not eager to use this opportunity. This feeds learned helplessness, deepening of language deficits and unjustifiable demands that they should receive service in their own native language.

There are several more challenges, first of all concerning the Estonian-language skills of graduates of Russian schools streaming to the labour market. In the final exam in Estonian for Russian basic schools, where a result of 60% corresponds with the B1 language-proficiency level, the schools from Harju county achieved the mean result of 69.3% and those from Ida-Viru 61.2%, meaning that from one-third to one-half could not reach the level of B1 in Estonian proficiency during their nine years of study at school. This is the minimal level for the vast majority of professions requiring some sort of communication. The mean results were considerably improved in the case of language-immersion students, with most receiving results of over 90%. Only 10% of students whose home language is Russian attend Estonian-medium schools, and one may assume fluency in Estonian among them. Adding to this success are students attending the language-immersion module at Russian schools: every third student passes either the early- or late-language immersion module in basic school. Approximately half of Russian-medium basic school graduates don’t continue their studies (Estonian language studies included) in secondary school, but move on to vocational schools or directly into the labour market. The required B2-level for graduation from secondary education was achieved by 82.8% of students in 2016. Non-Estonian students are under-represented at Estonian-medium programmes in higher education: in 2014 students with Russian as their native language constituted 16% of the total in the Estonian universities. A relatively larger share of graduates proceed to higher education institutions abroad and to those private educational institutions which still offer programmes in Russian.

Each subsequent educational level implies a higher level of proficiency in Estonian. In reality, problems in Estonian language teaching appear already at the kindergarten level, and the challenge escalates in the following educational levels. Low skills in Estonian among those Russian-speakers lead to low competitiveness in further studies and in the labour market. The fact that the Government of Estonia is unable to provide sufficient proficiency in Estonian has translated into discrimination concerning equal opportunities, and this has been pointed out several times by various institutions, the Estonian Human Rights Institute among them. Violation of a specific human right, the right to learn the national language of the country of residence, i.e. Estonian, is also monitored. This is most salient in Tallinn, the capital, where residing in Russian-speaking districts enables Russians to cope without using Estonian, notwithstanding that entering the labor market necessitates a high level of proficiency in Estonian. Retired people and workers with a low educational level face fewer problems here, as they don’t compete for jobs requiring better language proficiency. The current integration programme places its educational emphasis on the secondary level, thus leaving earlier lower levels stranded, especially from the pre-school and elementary levels (offering 2 lessons of Estonian a week!), which are of utmost importance in building integrative ethnic relations.

The same problem seems to affect the division of jobs among ethnic groups and alternate home languages. According to the census data of 2011, 12% of Estonians and 6% of Russians are employed as directors. Of the total, Estonians comprise 85% of the directors in Estonia (Saar 2016). As Estonian language skills are increasingly more highly valued in the Estonian labour market, those with low corresponding skills can’t make it to the top. At the same time, good proficiency in Estonian is insufficient: it increases choices for Russian speakers, however it proves to be insufficient in achieving results equal to those of Estonians (Helemäe et al. 2004, Asari 2002). The probability of reaching the position of a director or a top specialist among Russian-speakers is smaller even if their integrative capital (Estonian language proficiency and citizenship of Estonia) is comparable to that of Estonians (Saar & Lindemann 2008). The reason might be hidden in the linguistically-segregated school system in Estonia, which effectively obstructs the formation of relationships, communication ability, shared values, etc. All these factors affect success in the labor market to a significant extent.

Disparity between the Estonian and Russian-speaking populations is increased even more by major differences in foreign-language skills, which leads to different social networks, jobs and ultimately to different social strata. According to the 2011 census data, foreign language proficiency among Estonian-speakers was much higher than among Russian speakers, 73% and 52% respectively. Those proficient in English were 45% and 24% respectively, and in the case of other languages learnt at the basic school level the difference was even greater, the reason being the structure of the current curriculum, where the extent of foreign-language teaching varies greatly between Estonian and Russian-medium schools. In Russian-medium schools Estonian is taught in the slot of the first foreign language and therefore, any foreign language is taught only to the extent of the second foreign language requirement. At the same time, the labour market presents even higher requirements concerning proficiency in foreign languages, especially in English, which reduces career opportunities when competing for jobs in the labour market and in further studies.

The current integration system provided by the state educational system is at odds with International human rights standards, creating tensions between language groups and unjustified expectations among them. Hopes that the social system itself finds suitable solutions for integration in the long term, and thus eradicates the challenge, have proven overoptimistic. Although in most parts of Estonia, where Russian-speakers constitute a marginal group, the integration issues have become insignificant, the problem is still acute in the counties of Harju and Ida-Viru, where in addition to insufficient proficiency in Estonian, segregation still looms large between the two cultures in terms of media, entertainment and values, increasing social and wealth stratification and security risks in the country.


The main dividing factor in the Estonian population is linguistic segregation. Contemporary linguistic segregation by residential area, school and labour market is similar to the first stage of immigration in other states, irrespective of entirely different historical developments. In this stage, immigrants tend to avoid contacts with the mainstream population as much as possible and maintain their customary living pattern. This is possible in the long term in settlements and ghettoes formed on the basis of a common language, ethnic group or religion. During the Soviet occupation the formation of these was based on Russian as the common vehicular language, fostered by the Soviet central power. Therefore approximately half of the Russian-speaking population has not even started with integration, though the longest period of their lives has been spent in Estonia. Most of the rest may be placed somewhere in the middle of the process. Estonian may be mastered to some extent - however, there is no will to use it. Estonian media is not trusted and cultural events and developments are not followed, due to a general support for the mindset spread by Russian media, including attitudes concerning recent historical events (for example, the majority of Russian-speakers disagree with the fact that Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, (cf. IÕI 2015). Thus, two interconnected challenges obstruct the integration of Russians into Estonian society: insufficient proficiency in Estonian (and its marginal use) together with the segregation evidenced by different residential areas, differences in cultural consumption, education, media and information spaces, conflicts regarding comprehension of recent history as well as attitudes concerning security and foreign policy at large.

Estonian-language skills that have been acquired in the segregative environment of a Russian-medium school don’t lead to the use of Estonian as the common language of communication and to an increase in mutual contacts. When entering the labour market, Russian-speakers, due to their insufficient language skills, have to be satisfied with less profitable positions, where language requirements are lower or absent. From there it is difficult to find a social trajectory that would enable them to exit their Russian-medium environment. The absence of a scientifically-solid and efficient language policy proves to be a major obstruction here. Another negative factor here is the authorisation for communication and business to be conducted in Russian as an alternative to Estonian, as in this way a segregated Russian-medium comfort zone is created, making integration difficult. This in turn negatively affects Estonian-language proficiency. In order to eliminate the syndrome of learned helplessness and to improve Estonian-language skills it is necessary to increase the status of the Estonian language for use in everyday communication and business and in various sectors of the labor market with the help of various instruments in prestige planning and language management. The educational system is in need of major reform at all levels and sectors (including hobby education), as it still maintains a segregagating structure and deficient curricula in the language acquisition planning aspect, and prepares linguistically-handicapped (concerning state language skills) students for the labour market. Language policy is, however, even more in need of revision, as it has been directed more by political, instead of scientific considerations.


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