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Sociolingüística internacional

Latvian language acquisition – a fight with myths, stereotypes and prejudeces, by Aija Priedite


The number of individuals who have participated in NPLLT LSL courses (autumn 1996 until end 2001) by profession:

Table 5. Participants by profession

Preschool educators


School and university educators


New recruits


Young unemployed


Medical personel


Municipality personel





Courses for young adults 766
Youth clubs 895
Summer camps for school students 1.730
Latvian railway employees 151
Ministry of Interior employees 3,347
Factory workers 157
People from different ethnic organizations 1,178
Young prisoners 151
School cooperation projects 237
Total 28,514

The NPLLT working group has calculated that an average non-Latvian speaker in Latvia needs 360 h (6 x 60 h courses) to become fluent in Latvian. The table below shows how many courses have been taken by different individuals.

Table 6

Number of courses received Individual persons Number of registered course trainees(1, 2 or more courses)
60 h 16,522 16,522
2 x 60 h 8,099 16,198
2 x 60 h 1,896 5,688
2 x 60 h 1,059 4,236
2 x 60 h 439 2,195
2 x 60 h 246 1,476
Total 28,514 48,382

The success of the NPLLT is based on certain basic principles. The participation in Programme activities is voluntary and based on open competitions, the target groups are stimulated by positive motivation, LLPU is not testing or examining the learners, LLPU seeks to focus on individuals and find out their needs, LLPU seeks to keep a constant dialogue with the target groups and makes efforts to involve them instead of to exclude.

Most non-Latvians have meanwhile accepted that it is necessary to know Latvian in Latvia. At least on a theoretical level. Even if they do not know Latvian themselves, many of them are sending their children to Latvian schools to promote the language learning process. But still there is a core of resistence which is supported and upheld by the above-mentioned myths and prejudices. The national-international working group as well as the directives of the MES stress, according to worldwide praxis, that a second language cannot be learnt by means of language lessons alone. It has to be supported by some subjects taught in the language.

7. Changes in the Education System – a political or pedagogical problem

The Latvian Education Act offers the minority schools different bilingual education models. This is a very good opportunity to learn the second language and the mothertongue in minority primary schools (grade 1 to 9). The Education Act stipulates that starting with grade 10 in the year 2004, the language of instruction in minority secondary schools should provide a gradualchange to Latvian as the language of instruction. This issue has been politicised from the very beginning. The arguments used are the old prejudices, that the Latvian language cannot be used to express global and higher values, that the Russian language is superior to the Latvian language, that the students being instructed in Latvian will be stupid and "half products" whatever that means. The opponents of the education reform want to keep the status quo and even the most illogical arguments against the reform are good enaugh to be used in this dispute.

About 50% of the minority schools are already ready to put into practice the bilingual education models and the change of the language of instruction in secondary schools. They have realized that this is a tremendious pedagogic challenge. About 30% of the minority schools need strong support to be able to meet the Act's requirements. But about 20% of the minority schools are not ready. Why? This is a good question. By December 1998, all minority school teachers should have reached the highest level of proficiencyin Latvian. The transition to bilingual education was begun in 1996. The Education Act did gradually come into force starting with the year 1998. Still a group of minority school representatives want to postpone or dehalt the process -- which raises the question, that is, whether these persons have been aware of the changes in Latvia and if these persons are loyal State employees?.

8. Language acquisition the way to integration or vice versa?

Every year LLPU has also implemented different informal so-called integration activities, such as camps, clubs, cooperation projects, etc. This has been extremely successful. This shows clearly that not only does language knowledge promote integration but also vice versa, integration is promoting language learning. In society the understanding of the ways and needs of integration activities has changed. The following example shows this clearly. In 1997 all cooperation activities between Latvians and Non-latvians were rejected by the Latvians. By 2001, however, different cooperation project models had come to be a part of everyday life.

Also the LLPU newsletter "Tagad", a quaterly bulletin published in three languages (Latvian, Russian and English), is a welcome contribution to the education reforms and integration issues in Latvia. Every number adresses some methodological problem, integration ideas and presents an interview on language acquisition with the widest range of different people living in Latvia.

In March 2002, the NPLLT was evaluated by an independent international-national team. It was recommended to continue all activities as before and to enhance the target groups on minority school parents. Actually the NPLLT had already in early 2002 started an information campaign addressed to the parents. Together with the Ministry of Education and Science, the LLPU has developed three different booklets with answers on the most frequent questions about bilingual education asked by parents, students and teachers. The LLPU is now organizing seminars to inform all the involved auditories about the benefits of bilingual education. The next step will be to offer the parent groups LSL courses and to tie the course content to the content of their children's school work. Via this activity the NPLLT is reaching the whole of society in Latvia.

9. The current situation

Meanwhile the LLPU is running a medium-size college and a medium size publishing house. The LLPU has expanded to a 20-person team (content, administration, finances, sale, etc.) with more than 2,000 individual contracts per year (trainers, teachers, authors and others). The budget is approximately 2 million US$ annually. The finances for the first four years were funded from a broad donor community via the UNDP. Starting with the year 2001 the Latvian Government has taken over a considerable amount of the funding, which together with the PHARE money makes up 60% of the total funding.

Every year LLPU is inviting all Programme participants to an evaluation conference to discuss and analyze the previous year and come up with ideas on how to improve the Programme work. These conferences have not only become a nicetradition but are also giving a constructive feed-back and future ideas.

The NPLLT has meanwhile crossed the borders of Latvia and is known also outside Latvia. The know how and expertise of the Programme has been requested by Estonia, Georgia and Moldova. In November 2002, the LLPU has been asked to host the yearly conference of the Nordic Network of Intercultural Communication. The NPLLT has also opened a webpage www.lvavp.lv in three languages where you can receive information about the past, present and future plans of the Programme.

Furthermore you can also consult the listing (1) of those sociolinguistic studies carried out in Latvia since its independence in 1991.

Dr. Aija Priedite
Director of the Latvian Language Programme Unit

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