The Ministry of Culture and the Integration Foundation are supporting the creation of a free mobile app for speak dating – Multikey. It is a universal key to the Estonian language, and more. Although the app itself will be released only in September-October 2018, user registration has already started. Several organizers of language exchange events have already joined the cooperative network. The first potential app users will participate in a lottery to win free tickets and receive smiley face badges.
There are dozens of ways to study languages. It seems that the market has got it all: different textbooks, language courses, free or not, online or not, language cafes, cultural clubs… It’s all there; however, studies report that a significant part of 9th graders from Russian schools can’t pass a B1 level exam. Language inspection sends non-Estonian teachers to repeat courses and retake tests over and over again. And people go to these courses, pass the language exams and the tests on the knowledge of the Constitution to obtain citizenship, but they don’t speak.
What if people helped each other, what if they understood how priceless this help could be? The project timed to the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia “Please, speak Estonian” aims to meet this challenge.
Estonians are pragmatic. At work they switch to the other person’s language if they see them stammer and search for words. They do it out of politeness and to save time, too.
The authors of the project want to involve Estonians – seniors, people with reduced working capacity, mothers with young children, students, pupils – there are more than 300 000 people in those groups, the same as the amount of non-Estonians living in the country. One group needs attention and socialization; the other can use the language practice. One problem can solve another.
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Contemporary information technologies limit the live interaction, namely take out the necessity to meet people or even to speak: the speech is replaced by the electronic text, the machine finishes your words and translates them into any given language within seconds. Scientist have even suggested a new term: “digital Alzheimer”. The constant use of gadgets does not only limit social circle, but also numbs the mind. Is computer the problem, though? Do mobile apps and the Internet necessarily lead to isolation? “When we discussed the problems of studying Estonian language with the students from Tallinn Linnamäe Russian Lyceum, we came to a simple conclusion: we have no one to talk to. There is no one to stammer with, no one to make mistakes with and sound silly together. In tiny Estonia it is easy to avoid numerous opportunities to speak Estonian language: there are self-checkout machines in the shops, you will be addressed to in your native language in a cafe or at the bank, and you can choose a different school or a job with another language. One after another, these avoidance techniques lead us to another life, the life with fewer opportunities. Everyone who has learned Estonian and speaks it fluently now remembers their First Estonian they talked to: a little old lady next door, a colleague, kids in the yard… That’s how we came up with the social language platform “Talk to me”. It’s a simple mobile app that will help you find a language partner,” explains Natalja Kitam - the author of the idea.
How will it work?
The algorithm will take into account your interests and location: a map similar to Taxify or Uber will appear on screen and you will see those who are ready to talk right at that moment. The project creators invite businesses and service networks to join the platform and convey a message to the learners: “In our bank/cafe/shop we are ready to speak simple, slow, patient and kind Estonian.”
“We are ready to pin to the map the events and cultural organisations where you can practice Estonian. Multikey app is already being developed, with support from the Integration Foundation and the Ministry of Culture. We are planning to launch the app already in October 2018”, states Natalja Kitam.
By the way, a part of the “Talk to me” team is those Lyceum students who will be spreading information among the schools and young people.
Where to talk? People will choose themselves. You can chat in the app or switch to WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, you can use your phone or go to a cafe, to the park or to the cinema. Every week we will raffle free tickets between the language partners who will have found each other. Through our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/raagiminuga) we will stream live from interesting cultural events, give advice on language learning, posts interviews with the best teachers and just interesting people. Join the group now and don’t miss out on a chance to find new friends and learn a language.
The creators of the project have prepared a thousand badges with a smiley face that they will give to the first users. This badge means that you want to speak Estonian and everyone will know your aspiration.
“This year the Estonian Republic celebrates its 100th anniversary. Let it be a sign of respect towards the language and the culture, a gift to the whole country. Everything starts with people, with one person. In the nearest future Estonian Language Houses will be opened in Tallinn and Narva, but we think that every house and every street must be a place for the Estonian language. We hope that if Estonians accept our call, in six months, by February 24, 2019, it will be so”, encourages Natalja Kitam.
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