The only official language in Estonia is Estonian. The Language Act, which is in force now, was passed by the Parliament in 2011. The purpose of the act is to develop, preserve and protect the Estonian language and ensure the use of the Estonian language as the main language for communication in all spheres of public life. It regulates the use of the Estonian language as well as foreign languages in oral and written administration, and public information and services. It also regulates the use of Estonian sign language, the requirements for and assessment of the proficiency in the Estonian language, and the exercise of state and administrative supervision over compliance with the requirements provided in the Language Act.
Russian speakers comprise about 30% of the country’s population. There are several cultural institutions in Tallinn as well as in Eastern Estonia, which are operating in Russian, such as the Russian Cultural Centre, the Russian Drama Theatre and the Russian Museum (part of Tallinn City Museum). One television and one radio channel of the Estonian Public Broadcasting are broadcast in Russian. Several NGOs of ethnic minority groups receive regular financing from the Ministry of Culture.
The Language Inspectorate is a government agency operating in the area of government of the Ministry of Education and Research. The main tasks of the Language Inspectorate are the implementation of language policy, state supervision over compliance with the requirements of the Language Act and legislation providing for the use of languages.
Strategic planning for the development of the Estonian language started in 1998. The strategy covers four areas:
- Estonian as the native language;
- Estonian as the second language;
- Estonian abroad; and
- Multilingualism, including foreign languages.
The current Estonian language development plan was used as a basis for the sustainable development of the “Estonian Language Development Plan 2011-2017”. The strategy is used as a blueprint for planning and financing all four areas covered with a special focus on Estonian as the native language. In March 2018, the Government decided to extend the development plan until the end of 2020. In September 2018, the Ministry of Education and Research was tasked by the government, in cooperation with the Government Office, to develop new basic principles of Estonian language policy. In October 2019, the Parliament ordered the Government to prepare the draft of Estonian Language Development Plan 2021-2035.
Estonian as a second language gained relevance as an important part of the government’s policy after Estonia’s reindependence in 1991. Versatile activities financed by the state and the European Social Fund are aimed at integrating children, adolescents and adults whose mother language is other than Estonian into the Estonian society.
The National Compatriots’ Programme supports the study and use of the Estonian language by the Estonian community that resides temporarily or permanently abroad. The programme supports the expatriates when they want to return to Estonia and offers information about Estonia and Estonian communities abroad. The Programme of Academic Studies of the Estonian Language and Culture Abroad supports the teaching of Estonian in higher education institutions abroad.
The government’s language policies and related plans are developed and implemented in consultation with the Estonian Language Council, a substructure of the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research established in 2001. The language policy department of the Ministry of Education and Research is responsible for the development of language policies. The department coordinates the implementation and upgrading of language legislation and the allocation of funding.