Do Estonians prefer English to Finnish?

Travel Destinations

By Kristy Tolley

Language use in Estonia

Estonia is a small country in Northern Europe with a population of just over 1.3 million people. The official language is Estonian, which has close ties to Finnish and is one of the few remaining members of the Finno-Ugric language family. However, due to its history of being occupied by both Finland and Russia, Estonians have been exposed to and influenced by other languages, particularly Finnish and Russian.

Historical context: Finnish and Russian influences

During the Soviet era, Russian was the dominant language in Estonia, and Finnish was seen as a language of the enemy, as Finland was a capitalist state. However, since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, Finnish has become more popular, particularly due to its similarity to Estonian. Many Estonians also have Finnish ancestry and cultural ties to Finland, which has led to a strong interest in learning Finnish.

English in education: A growing trend?

In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards the use of English in education. English is taught as a foreign language in schools from an early age, and many universities now offer courses taught in English. This is seen as a way to prepare students for the global job market and to attract international students to Estonia. However, there is concern that this could lead to a decline in the use of Estonian and Finnish in higher education.

Finnish in education: Traditional but declining?

Finnish has traditionally been taught in schools as a second language, and it is still a popular choice for many Estonians, particularly those with Finnish ancestry or who have close ties to Finland. However, there has been a decline in the number of students learning Finnish in recent years, particularly in higher education. This is partly due to the growing popularity of English and the perception that Finnish is not as useful for international communication.

Language proficiency: Estonians’ perceptions

Estonians are generally proud of their language and culture, and there is a strong emphasis on language proficiency in schools and society as a whole. According to a survey conducted by Eurobarometer in 2018, 98% of Estonians speak Estonian, and 78% speak English. Finnish was spoken by 30% of respondents, while Russian was spoken by 27%. However, there is a perception that language proficiency is declining, particularly among younger generations.

Business language: English dominance?

English is becoming increasingly important as a business language in Estonia, particularly in the tech industry, which is a major sector of the economy. Many companies use English as their official language, and there is a growing demand for English-speaking employees. However, Finnish and Russian are still important in certain industries, particularly those that have close ties to Finland and Russia.

Cultural impact: English vs Finnish media

English-language media is widely available in Estonia, particularly through the internet and cable TV. This has led to a growing influence of English-language culture, particularly in the younger generation. However, Finnish-language media is also popular, particularly among those with Finnish ancestry or who have close ties to Finland. This has led to a diverse cultural landscape in Estonia, with influences from both English and Finnish cultures.

Linguistic identity: Estonian language pride

Estonians have a strong sense of pride in their language and culture, and there is a growing movement to promote the use of Estonian in all areas of society. This includes initiatives to increase the use of Estonian in higher education, as well as efforts to promote the use of Estonian in international communication. There is also a push to preserve and promote the use of minority languages, particularly Russian and Finnish.

Language policy: Government initiatives

The Estonian government has implemented several initiatives to promote the use of Estonian and other minority languages. This includes language proficiency tests for immigrants, as well as support for language learning programs in schools and universities. There are also initiatives to promote the use of Estonian in the workplace, particularly in the public sector.

Language attitudes: Estonians’ preferences

Despite the growing popularity of English in Estonia, many Estonians still prefer to use Estonian and Finnish in their daily lives. According to a survey conducted by Taloustutkimus in 2019, 80% of Estonians prefer to use Estonian for personal communication, while 64% prefer to use Finnish. English was the third most popular choice, with 41% preferring to use it for personal communication.

Conclusion: The future of language use in Estonia

The future of language use in Estonia is likely to be influenced by a variety of factors, including global trends, cultural ties, and government policies. While English is becoming increasingly important as a business and academic language, Estonians still have a strong sense of pride in their language and culture. The use of Finnish is also likely to remain important, particularly in certain industries and among those with Finnish ancestry or close ties to Finland. Ultimately, the key to preserving and promoting language diversity in Estonia will be to balance the need for international communication with the importance of maintaining linguistic identity and cultural heritage.

References: Sources on language use in Estonia

  • Eurobarometer (2018). Special Eurobarometer 485: Europeans and their languages. https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/85642
  • Taloustutkimus (2019). Language Barometer 2019.
  • The Baltic Times (2021). English-language proficiency in Estonia is among the highest in the EU. https://www.baltictimes.com/english-language_proficiency_in_estonia_is_among_the_highest_in_the_eu/
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Kristy Tolley

Kristy Tolley, an accomplished editor at TravelAsker, boasts a rich background in travel content creation. Before TravelAsker, she led editorial efforts at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, shaping content for Platea English. Kristy's extensive two-decade career spans writing and editing travel topics, from destinations to road trips. Her passion for travel and storytelling inspire readers to embark on their own journeys.

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