Professional linguistic requirements in Estonia

From: MINELRES moderator <>
Date: Sat, 2 Jun 2001 09:49:10 +0300 (EEST)
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Subject: Professional linguistic requirements in Estonia

From: MINELRES moderator <>

Original sender: Vadim Polestsuk <>

Professional linguistic requirements in Estonia

Professional linguistic requirements in Estonia
On June 14 2000 the Estonian Law on Language (published Riigi Teataja
(RT) I 1995, 23, 334) was supplied with the provision that the
establishment of professional language proficiency requirements should
be justified and proportional. The related provision of the Law was
also worded differently. According to Art.2' the  justified public
interests are: safety; 2.public order; 3. public
administration; 4. protection of public health; 5. health care; 6.
protection of consumer rights; 7. workplace safety. The system of
language proficiency control is also stipulated by the Law on
Language. On 9 February 1999 the parliament adopted amendment (RT I
1999, 16, 275) that substituted previous 6 levels of the State
language proficiency with 3 levels system. Additionally language
proficiency certificates received in the framework of the previous
system were declared to be invalid since 1 July 2002. That means that
the majority of non-Estonian population (those who have not received
education in Estonian language) are subject to a second large scale
examination campaign during the last decade. In 2000, 4,243 persons
managed to pass new exams while 3,178 did it for the lowest of three
established levels of proficiency. In 2000, the percentage of persons
who passed successfully different levels' exams was as following: the
lowest level - 71%, the middle level - 53%, the highest level - 65%
(Daily "Molodez Estonii" - Sreda, 7 February 2001).

According to Law on Language (Section 5 Art.5),
1) lowest level - limited oral and elementary written proficiency in
Estonian. The person can manage in familiar language situations,
understands clear speech on everyday topics, understands the general
meaning of uncomplicated texts and can complete simple standard
documents and write short texts for general use;
2) middle level - oral and limited written proficiency in Estonian.
The person can manage in various language situations, understands
speech at normal speed, understands the contents of texts on everyday
topics without difficulty and can write texts relating to his or her
area of activity;
3) highest level - oral and written proficiency in Estonian. The
person can express himself or herself freely irrespective of the
language situation, understands speech at high speed, understands the
contents of more complicated texts without difficulty and can write
texts which are different in style and function.

In practice oral and written part of the test are taken on different
days. The written part lasts at least 3 hours. Thus an applicant for a
middle level certificate should inter alia write a letter (100 words)
and an essay (160 words) during 1,5 hour and make a grammar exercise
(Daily "Molodez Estonii", 10 May 2001).

Linguistic requirements for state sector and public law institutions
(such as State and municipal schools) are stipulated in Regulation of
the Government of 16 August 1999, no.249 (published RT I  1999, 66,
656). Thus for ordinary teachers (including those in Russian basic
schools and gymnasiums) the second level is demanded.

The new governmental regulation regarding language proficiency
requirements in private sector was approved only on 16 May 2001 (RT I
2001, 48, 269). It includes the list of groups of employees that
should know the State language. E.g. the lowest level is required for
drivers of means of public transport, for those who take care of a
person (e.g. orderly) and for workers involved into sale of goods and
services if they supposed to provide information on their goods' or
services' characteristics, price, origin and exploitation ("which
should be in Estonian in public interests", presumably for protection
of customers). However, if goods and services are dangerous for one's
life or health, social safety and environment, a person should
demonstrate a middle level certificate if he/she sells or deals with
such goods or consult clients on them. The middle level is claimed for
e.g. management and teaching stuff or private educational institutions
"responsible for guarantee of security of pupils and students". The
highest level is necessary inter alia for captains of ships and
planes. It is rather interesting to analyse the list of professions in
this regulation taking into account the requirements of the
professional knowledge examinations. Thus, a person who sells
compulsory insurance policies (e.g. traffic insurance) should be able
to write an essay, as it required for middle level's applicants.

The experts of the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights came to
conclusion that:
1. The definition of  "public interests" in Estonia includes some
unjustified components which could not be found in the international
documents that protect freedom of expression;
2. Factual requirements for applicants at proficiency level exams
(especially for middle and highest levels) are not reasonable;
3. Linguistic requirements are not balanced. The interests and needs
of minorities are neglected even in the territories where they are
present in big numbers;
4. "Protection of consumers" could not justify any State interference
into private sector.  Requirements established for almost any person
dealing with sale of goods and services are not in conventional public
interests. It is worth emphasising that in Estonia linguistic
requirements are too often used as a mean of unfair competition.
5. Linguistic requirements to all doctors (highest level) and medical
auxiliary staff (middle level) even in private sector ignore the
factual bilingualism in Estonia where Russian is a mother tongue for
1/3 of the population.
6. Linguistic requirements to some professions do not consider actual
working conditions. E.g. captains of aircrafts (highest level
required) use predominantly English, not Estonian.
7. Linguistic requirements to private educational institutions'
management and teaching staff (middle level) are not justified and can
result in abolishment of private Russian education in Estonia.
Vadim Poleshchuk
Legal Information Centre for Human Rights

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