Spot checks reveal poor Estonian

  • 2001-01-25
  • Devyani Banerjee
TALLINN - One in every five non-Estonian service staff lacks official language proficiency papers, according to Ilmar Tomusk, director general of the country's language inspectorate, which recently carried out spot checks.

According to the Estonian Language Law, formulated in 1989, every state government official in the public sector, and some employees in the private sector who deal with the public regularly, must have a certain level of knowledge of the Estonian language.

It is mandatory for all public and some private sector employees to possess a language proficiency certificate, which is issued by the Examination and Qualification Center at the Ministry of Education.

"Of the three language proficiency levels - elementary, intermediate and advanced - workers and shop assistants should have elementary knowledge of the language," Tomusk said.

"Teachers at Russian schools, nurses and junior doctors need to possess an intermediate level certificate, and senior civil officials, senior doctors and psychologists should have an advanced knowledge."

Of the 2,956 employees whose language proficiency certificates were checked, 649 didn't have any such certificate, 259 had a lower level certificate than required and 58 had forged certificates. The forged cases have been referred to the police.

The inspection, investigating 1,000 institutions, involved 62 police officials, 48 medical and 140 educational workers, 100 postal workers, 113 prison officials, 239 kindergarten and 110 orphanage employees, 49 aviation and 85 customs employees, 62 municipal officials and 92 employees in the field of commerce.

"When a person is found lacking Estonian language knowledge," Tomusk continued, "we first give him a warning and ask him to acquire the necessary language skill within three to six months or a year. If our warning goes unheeded, only then do we impose a fine on the erring employee or ask the employer to remove the person from the job."

Fines can be to the tune of between one and 10 days' salary. Last year, 40 people were fined, for a total of 8,356 kroons ($510).

According to Tomusk, a recent European Union report described Estonia's language law as being in conformity with EU language principles, and the law has been discussed on a regular basis with the EU and the OSCE.

Asked if there is any need to have English as Estonia's second official language, Tomusk replied, "English is already quite popular in Estonia and there is no need for us to have it as a second language."