Author:
Robin Kirsiste

Learner of Estonian as a second language: we cannot learn without you

According to the latest census, 243 languages are spoken as mother tongues in Estonia, so we have a lot of people who speak Estonian as a second language. The best way to support language learners is to communicate openly. In addition to studying for language exams, it is essential to pass on knowledge of spoken language in language lessons, it was stated at the discussion "Estonian as a second language" at the Tartu [pre]Opinion festival on 18 May.

We wrote down some of the ideas from the conversation:

The belief that learning Estonian is difficult is a myth that we should abandon in order to support language learners. For learners, it is most important to overcome the fear of starting language learning and making mistakes. Language learning is a continuous process that never ends.

Whether and how to correct errors made by language learners? It depends a lot on the communication situation. A great opportunity is to participate in a conversation as an active listener and reflect on what the speaker has said. In this way, correcting does not feel like an attack. Language learners can also be asked what they prefer.

Estonians tend to switch to English hastily when communicating with someone learning the Estonian language. This should not be done, as language learners need to have a great deal of courage to test their skills in a communication situation, which should be fully supported.

Language learners benefit from not having to use overly complex vocabulary in communication. Speaking in a simple manner does not necessarily mean doing it more slowly, but it requires a different use of words.

The structure of a language exam may seem daunting – it is a prolonged effort that tests not only the mind but also the body. During the exam, specific skills are needed, such as analysing graphs and delivering monologues, which can be challenging even for proficient speakers. Even for learners with excellent language skills, taking the exam can be a great challenge. Also, good exam results may not necessarily mean a versatile language proficiency required in real communication situations.

In the question round, the discussion was about the integration of young people with a second language at the university. A recent study at the University of Tartu revealed the concern of young people with Russian as their dominant language that they are being left out of Estonian-speaking social circles because they are unable to communicate with Estonian-speaking youth in their manner. Therefore, it would be good if language teachers also addressed everyday vocabulary, including youth language, in addition to exam topics in classes.

Participants in the discussion were language researchers and teachers who have learned or taught Estonian as a second language: UT Junior Research Fellow in Linguistics Kristel Algvere, UT Junior Research Fellow in Finno-Ugric Studies Bogáta Timár, UT Visiting Lecturer in Polish Language Marcin Raiman, and UT bachelor’s student of Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics and teacher of Estonian as a second language Aleksandr Petrov. The discussion was led by UT Research Fellow in Language Policy and teacher of Estonian as a second language Kerttu Rozenvalde.

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