FCNM Advisory Committee 3rd opinion on Latvia (excerpts on language learning), 2018

I. MAIN FINDINGS

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Language policy

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21. Significant efforts and resources have been allocated to provide Latvian language classes for persons seeking to improve their language skills. As a result more than 90% of respondents whose first language is Russian know Latvian, with almost half of the respondents rating their knowledge of Latvian as good.6 Latvian language proficiency among younger persons belonging to national minorities is significantly better. Attitudes towards the use of Latvian among persons belonging to national minorities are, for most part, neutral or positive.7

Footnote 6 Latvian Language Agency survey on “The Language Situation in Latvia: 2010-2015”, available at
http://www.valoda.lv/en/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/LSL_ENG_2017_web.pdf.
Footnote 7 Study of the Ministry of Culture “Participation of minorities in democratic processes in Latvia” (2015), cited in the “Combined sixth to twelfth periodic reports submitted by Latvia under article 9 of the Convention, due in 2007”, p. 15.

II. ARTICLE-BY-ARTICLE FINDINGS

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Article 3 of the Framework Convention

Personal scope of application of the Framework Convention

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Present situation

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34. Awareness-raising campaigns in many Latvian cities, including information days in Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja and Ventspils have been organised, where persons interested in naturalisation can receive information on legal requirements and on the procedure. Information leaflets on naturalisation have been published, and training courses preparing for exams required of persons seeking naturalisation have been organised in the framework of the European Fund for the Integration of third-country nationals and the Society Integration Foundation. Latvian language courses have been proposed by the Society Integration Foundation in the framework of the programme “Learning of Latvian for Adults”, and by the State Employment Agency. Between 2010 and 2014, 38 688 persons received tuition on the Latvian language. A further 3 260 persons took part in such courses in 2015 and 2 602 in 2016. The Advisory Committee notes that in the first ten months of 2017, around 25% of persons failed to pass the Latvian language test, which seems to indicate continuing difficulties concerning language tests required for naturalisation. 17 In this context, however, it has to be noted that information on the requirements regarding the knowledge of Latvian and of the basic principles of the constitution, the national anthem and Latvia’s history and culture is available on the website of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs in Latvian, English and Russian.

Footnote 17 According to the information obtained from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs during the visit, in the first ten months of 2017, 620 persons passed the Latvian language test, 204 failed it and 349 were exempt from it. The number of persons who passed the test on the Constitution, history, culture, and the national anthem of Latvia was 695 during the same period, with 170 persons failing the test and 45 being exempt. Information on all the requirements for the test is available on the website of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at
http://www.pmlp.gov.lv/en/home/services/citizenship/naturalizacija/. Interested persons may test their knowledge by taking a mock test online.

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Article 11 of the Framework Convention

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Official language learning

Recommendations from the two previous cycles of monitoring

157. The Advisory Committee invited the authorities to pursue their efforts to provide opportunities for Latvian language learning for adults

Present situation

158. The Advisory Committee notes with interest that a number of state and municipal agencies, including the Latvian Language Agency, the Society Integration Foundation and numerous municipal structures, have been continuing their efforts to provide Latvian language classes for adults seeking to improve their language competency. The Society Integration Foundation continues to offer the “Latvian Language Learning Programme for Adults,” aiming to raise proficiency in Latvian amongst the adult population of Latvia and facilitate access to financial support for attending professional Latvian language lessons at B2 level. According to the State report, 119 the outcomes of these programmes have been positive, having increased the language proficiency of at least 70% of participants by one level. Since 2012, such courses have been particularly targeting inhabitants of the Latgale region (in particular in Cibla, Zilupe, Ludza, Daugavpils, Dagra, Krāslava), and in the Riga region. The Advisory Committee notes that this claim is supported by figures which demonstrate a growing success rate among persons taking language exams in the context of the citizenship application (see Article 3).

Footnote 119 See State report, p. 53.

159. The Advisory Committee further notes that since 2012, the Latvian Language Agency has carried out five projects under the European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals: “Accessibility of Latvian Language Learning for successful communication, integration and naturalisation,” “Provision of support for teachers who teach Latvian to national minority children in pre-school institutions,” “Provision of support for teachers working in a cross-cultural environment,” “Support for third country nationals before entering the country and during the adaptation period,” and “Support for third country nationals before entering the country and during the adaptation period 2.” 120

Footnote 120 The language learning and integration-related materials are accessible on the Agency’s website at www.valoda.lv and the portal www.sazinastilts.lv, and reportedly continue to be widely used. In 2014 the website was visited more than 110 thousand times (824 thousand page views), in 2015 — 161.5 thousand times (1 million page views), in 2016 — 174 204 times (1 105 794 page views).

160. Furthermore, the Latvian Language Agency has continued to offer Latvian language improvement courses for teachers. Between 2012 and 2016, 8 084 teachers participated in such courses. In 2014 the authorities established a working group composed of teachers from municipal and private pre-school education institutions, as well as representatives of the National Centre for Education, Latvian Language Agency, Riga Teacher Training and Educational Management Academy, to evaluate the modalities for improving pre-school curricula and to develop the education programme for national minority children with a view to ensuring early acquisition of the Latvian language. Measures proposed included legislative changes (mandating seven targeted Latvian language lessons for 1.5–4 year old children, including five integrated lessons through play per week, and ten Latvian language lessons per week for 5–6 year old children), improvement of the Latvian language skills of the management and administration of the pre-school education institutions and fostering an environment conducive to Latvian language learning through play.

161. Moreover, since 2011 Riga City Council has been financially supporting Latvian language courses for residents of the city. In the last five years financial support has been provided to 55 projects providing an opportunity for 7 650 adult residents of Riga to learn the language or improve their knowledge of Latvian free of charge.121 Similar additional support is provided by the Daugavpils municipality to 30 study groups annually.122

Footnote 121 The total funding for these courses amounted to 718 000 EUR.
Footnote 122 See State report, p. 53.

162. As a consequence, according to a recent survey conducted by the Latvian Language Agency on “The Language Situation in Latvia: 2010-2015,” more than 90% of respondents whose first language is Russian know Latvian, with almost half of the respondents rating their knowledge of Latvian as good. Latvian language proficiency among younger persons belonging to national minorities is significantly better: 39% rate their skills as excellent or very good; 39% as good; 20% as satisfactory, elementary. The Advisory Committee considers this trend to be a very positive development, auguring the possibility of a more cohesive society which shares the same socio-linguistic environment in Latvia. It further notes that, according to the study cited above, attitudes in society towards the official language are positive: it is being recognised as the most important language in Latvia and proficiency in Latvian is increasingly recognised as a necessity not only for obtaining a language certificate, but also a job.123 Moreover, the attitude towards the use of the Latvian language among persons belonging to national minorities is, for most part, neutral or positive.124 Reportedly, 36% of non-native speakers indicated that they speak Latvian gladly, while further 45% indicated that their attitude towards Latvian is neutral. 125

Footnote 123 The respondents’ replies to the question “Why should all people in Latvia know Latvian?” were as follows: 45% – because they live in Latvia; 37% – because it is the official language; 13% – to make communication easier etc. The majority of the residents of Latvia regardless of their ethnic affiliation (70%) consider that children should learn Latvian as early as possible (at pre-school or primary school).
Footnote 124 Study of the Ministry of Culture “Participation of minorities in democratic processes in Latvia” (2015), cited in the “Combined sixth to twelfth periodic reports submitted by Latvia under article 9 of the Convention, due in 2007”, p. 15.
Footnote 125 Other respondents indicated that they speak Latvian without a special enthusiasm (7%), or unwillingly (5%).

Recommendation

163. The Advisory Committee reiterates its invitation to the authorities to pursue their efforts to promote easily accessible opportunities for learning Latvian among all inhabitants of Latvia. In particular, efforts to maintain opportunities for Latvian language learning for adults should be pursued.

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III. CONCLUSIONS

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Positive developments following three cycles of monitoring

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190. Significant efforts and resources have been dedicated to provide Latvian language classes for adults seeking to improve their language skills. Recent studies indicate that more than 90% of respondents whose first language is Russian know Latvian, with almost half of the respondents rating their knowledge of Latvian as good. Latvian language proficiency among younger persons belonging to national minorities is significantly better still. Attitudes towards the use of the Latvian language among persons belonging to national minorities are, for the most part, neutral or positive. This positive development is a necessary step, but is insufficient to bring about a more cohesive society, sharing the same socio-linguistic environment.


Document data: ACFC/OP/III(2018)001; adopted 23.02.2018, published 15.10.2018 Link: https://rm.coe.int/revised-version-of-the-english-language-version-of-the-opinion/1680901e79 Also available in Latvian: https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-latvian/16808d91ab

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