Foreign language learning in Estonia

Mother tongue, or the first language, and foreign languages skills are among the most important competences of people. The purpose of the measures of the Estonian Foreign Languages Strategy 2009–2015 is to provide individuals with better opportunities in the globalising world and to increase their competitiveness in the labour market. The Strategy comprises thematic principles of and guidelines for foreign language learning, teaching and assessment.

According to learning psychology, a foreign language is any language other than the native language of the speaker. The Language Act defines a foreign language as any language other than Estonian and Estonian sign language. A language of a national minority is also considered a foreign language that Estonian citizens who belong to a national minority have historically used as their mother tongue in Estonia.

In Estonia, at least two foreign languages have been traditionally taught at school. According to the national curricula, students of Estonian-medium schools can learn English, French, German or Russian as the first (A). Majority of students study English as the first foreign language. Students of Russian-medium schools study Estonian as their first (A) foreign language (Estonian as the second language).

According to the national curriculum for basic schools, any foreign language can be taught as a second (B) foreign language depending on students’ interests and the alternatives provided by a school. English, Russian, German, French or another foreign language could be taught as the second (B) foreign language. Though, a number of basic schools have started to teach Finnish as the second foreign language. Some other foreign languages taught at schools include Hebrew, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Greek, Latin, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or Swahili.

According to the national curriculum for upper secondary schools, the prior division of foreign language into A- and B-languages is no longer valid and students enrol in the courses according to their language levels (B1 and B2 language courses). By the time of graduation, pupils should have achieved the level of an independent user (B- level according the Common European Framework)) in at least two foreign languages.

In order to graduate from the secondary school, students have to take a state English language examination or/and an internationally recognized language examination in German, Russian or French. More and more students opt to take two foreign language examinations on graduation.

In vocational and higher education foreign languages for specific purposes are mostly taught. The choice of languages taught and learnt are closely related to the speciality chosen.


Last updated: 30 January 2015