In today’s guest post, Sam Noble, intern at British Council Estonia and student at the Humboldt University of Berlin, writes about his experience of the European Day of Languages in Estonia and how it has motivated him to learn more languages. The original article was posted to the British Council Estonia blog.
The European Day of Languages, held this year in Tallinn University, is an exhibition to promote language and culture to school and university students in Estonia. The British Council attended, alongside other institutions to do just that. The Estonian, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, Spanish, Hungarian, French and German institutes were all present, identifiable by their respective miniature flags. In addition, there were musical performances from a prepubescent Polish prodigy playing piano (I could not resist the alliteration), Russian girls in traditional costume singing in their Finno-Ugric dialect (which is the linguistic family vowel-happy Estonian belongs to) as well as language classes for all of the represented languages as well as various Estonian dialects. The only class missing was an English language class, indicative of just how pervasive English is in Estonia.
Having said that, the British Council stall was busy, giving ad-hoc university advice to young and exceptionally polite students and handing out free prospectuses and pens to all who seemed curious. It was a great opportunity to give impartial advice about British universities to potential students. Having worked for universities before, your author knows how competitive universities are in attracting non-UK students to their university. Tuition fees are extraordinarily high in the UK, consequently all universities are desperately trying to attract EU and non-EU students, riding on the excellent reputation that the UK university sector has abroad. Of course not all universities are deserving of this reputation, and it is these universities who are persuading wide-eyed students to come to their university. My advice to students was to aim as high as possible. If you are going to dish out a small fortune, apply to Oxford, apply to Cambridge and not a university that you have never heard off in a town you can not pronounce.
The day was also a great opportunity to see how other cultural institutions work and promote themselves. The Danish Cultural Institute were astounded that no Estonians were considering studying in Denmark. Unlike the UK, not only are there no tuition fees but the government gives students an allowance per month (I’m wondering why I didn’t study there myself). The monthly allowance is more than the average Estonian civil servant or teacher earns. This got me into a long and interesting conversation with my colleague and an Estonian woman who runs the English language exams at the university. In short, lots of Estonian nurses, doctors and teachers are going to Finland, Sweden, Norway and the UK simply because they can earn so much more there than they can here in Estonia. I assumed Estonians earned a similar amount, especially here in Tallinn where the prices are similar to a lot of UK towns. How do they manage?
But back to more jovial subjects. The Spanish stall was very popular, true to national (and positive) stereotype; the Spanish were gregarious and attracted a lot of attention. I wish I’d been wearing tweed and a bowler hat to emulate national stereotypes as well (the British Council didn’t even have a flag). However, my French equivalent was envious of the literature we were giving to students, that is an in-depth guide book to all the universities of the UK. “That would make my life a lot easier” He opined. If French tuition fees were anywhere near the UK prices, then French universities would be compelled to offer publications such as these to people.
I hope an event such as this continues to promote language here in Estonia. It was an event which promoted culture and language in a positive and sharing environment. Learning a new language is an enlightening experience. But more realistically, it is a way to enhance career prospects as many Estonians working in other countries may attest. I am always envious when I meet multi-lingual people. I speak one language, but this day motivated me to learn. Now if someone can just explain to me the Estonian case system I may give Estonian a go…täname, et lugemine.