August 19, 2021

Estonia and Finland in common digital language space

"Finland and Estonia in digital language space", a panel at Paide Opinion Festival 2021
"Finland and Estonia in digital language space", a panel at Paide Opinion Festival 2021

Should the Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) broadcast TV programmes in Finnish and Finnish Public Broadcasting (YLE) in Estonian soon? This was one of the proposals made by journalist Rain Kooli during a a discussion „Estonia and Finland in common digital language space“, organized by EFPI and the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on August 13, at the Opinion Festival in Paide. The discussants were Tanel Alumäe (Researcher at TalTech), Rain Kooli (Correspondent at ERR and YLE), Pekka Myllylä (Managing Director at Tilde). The discussion was moderated by Jaak Aaviksoo, a co-author of the  third report on future Estonian-Finnish cooperation.

They discussed three main topics: 

  • Current status of language barrier and how it should be overcome – does English have to be the lingua franca or are there any other ways?  
  • How can technology help us overcome the language barrier?
  • Joint information and communication spaces. 

According to Rain Kooli the  language barrier is growing and the influence that Finnish television had in Estonia 20, or even 40 years ago is gone. Kooli added that, interestingly enough, Estonian language skills among Finns are rising while Finnish skills among Estonians are declining. Pekka Myllylä stressed that the situation 30 years ago where much more Estonians knew Finnish and only few Finns knew Estonian, was unbalanced and is changing. Myllylä also reminded that learning Estonian and Finnish is much easier for both sides than learning a completely new language, it should be more promoted and good  technological tools offered.  

All panelists agreed that both investment to classical language teaching at schools as well as to language technology development are important. They were skeptical about technology being able to replace a common language skill for daily oral communication. Discussants also agreed unanimously that support from the governments combined with private investments is vital to enhance language technology development. Tanel Alumäe thought that in speech to speech translation technology Estonian and Finnish  could be a good case study and example for other similar languag pairs while Rain Kooli urged for being cautious since translation cannot translate everything, for example emotions and feelings.  

Panelists suggested some concrete initiatives that could be taken by both Estonia and Finland in order to decrease the language barrier and enhance cooperation. Rain Kooli advised that  ERR could have a Finnish-language department and vice versa, as YLE already has Russian-language and English-language departments in place. Pekka Myllylä recommended to have a direct machine translation possibility on both broadcaster’s news website which would increase news followers from both countries. Tanel Alumäe stressed the importance of technology education, including joint programmes, doctoral schools, to ensure language technology expertise in both Estonia and Finland also in the future.  

The discussion was part of the third visionary report on Estonia-Finland future cooperation, prepared jointly by Jaak Aaviksoo on behalf of Estonia and Anne-Mari Virolainen on behalf of Finland with support from the foreign policy institutes of both countries. The report will be presented in February 2022. 

See the full debate (first part in English, from 38:50 in Estonian):

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