Edited By Mirja-Tytti Talib, Jyrki Loima, Heini Paavola and Sanna Patrikainen
The language immersion program at school entry in Estonia Leida Talts, Airi Kukk and Maia Muldma 123
123 The language immersion program at school entry in Estonia Leida Talts, Airi Kukk and Maia Muldma Introduction One-third of the Estonian population constitutes of non-Estonians of whom the majority do not speak the Estonian language nor are they fully integrated in the social, political and cultural life of Estonia. The learning methods used for teaching Estonian as a second language have hitherto not reached the desired re- sults. More particularly, the Estonian language skills of most graduates of the Russian upper secondary schools are not sufficient for competing in the labor market or for continuing studies in the institutions of higher education. There- fore, more and more Russian speaking parents are looking for ways to help their children to manage equally well in both language environments without losing their cultural identity. The model of early language immersion in kindergarten has been used in Estonia since 2003. Applying the language immersion program has been accompanied by a debate over the question of what should be consid- ered of primary importance in the development of non-Estonian children, is it raising citizens, who are loyal to Estonia, preserving their national feeling, or something else? From the point of view of both non-Estonian children and adults it is obviously important to feel as being a full citizen while living in Es- tonia, the precondition of which is the proficiency in the official language. Lan- guage learning should certainly not be the sole purpose in children’s growing to become Estonian citizens, but it should...
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