The language adaptation of second generation immigrant population in Estonia

Leen Rahnu, Estonian Interuniversity Population Research Centre

The adaptation of immigrant population is a burning issue in most European societies. Even without a scholarly debate it is easy to notice that immigration does have an impact in social-, cultural-, economical- and political coherence and outlook of the society. It is still quite a puzzle to predict the trajectories of those influences and describe possible factors determining the scope of it. The study of the behaviour patterns of the second generation of foreign origin population can share more light to the general tendencies of adaptation. In the post-war period Estonia has witnessed mass immigration starting from neighbouring regions of Russia, but continuing in larger waves of immigrants from more distant regions, involving eastern and southern parts of the USSR. As a result the population of foreign origin is remarkably heterogeneous and constitutes currently 38% of the total population in Estonia. The examination of adaptation experience of second generation immigrants in Estonia is worth attention because the immigration to Estonia started about a decade earlier compared to other European countries, and can thus indicate possible scenarios for other countries tangling with similar issues. This paper addresses adaptation patterns of second generation immigrant population from the perspective of host country language acquisition. Since the early 1990s the position of Estonian language has been in the focus of integration policies, but also in the very centre of everyday discourse of immigration. During that time the amount of foreign origin population not able to communicate in host language has declined, but it is still remarkably high - up to 40% even in younger age groups. This provokes a question about factors supporting or hindering the language acquisition. The paper explores this question based on the census statistics from year 2000 and individual-level data from national surveys.

Presented in Poster Session 2