People living in Estonia speak 243 different mother tongues

Estonian census results show that 243 different mother tongues are spoken in Estonia; Estonian is spoken as a mother tongue by 67% and as a foreign language by 17% of the population.

Altogether, a total of 84% of the population speaks Estonian.

Henry Lass, an analyst at Statistics Estonia, the country’s official statistics agency, said the proportion of native speakers of Estonian has not increased, but the number of mother tongues spoken in Estonia has risen significantly since 2000.

“While a total of 109 different mother tongues were counted in the 2000 census, a decade later, in 2011, there were 157 of them, and as many as 243 in the 2021 census,” Lass said in a statement, adding that the new languages with the largest number of speakers include Iranian languages (62), Niger-Kordofanian languages (20), Sindhi (19) and Mandar (15).

Illustration by Mette Mari Kaljas.

Even Egyptian speakers live in Estonia

The most widely spoken languages in the world are English, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish and French.

According to the census, 3,879 people in Estonia speak English as their mother tongue, while Mandarin is spoken as the native language by 419, Hindi by 630, Spanish by 1,378 and French by 1,424 people living here.

“The oldest languages spoken as mother tongues in Estonia are Egyptian, Hebrew and Tamil. 21 people are native speakers of Egyptian, while Hebrew is the mother tongue of 79 and Tamil of 124 people,” Lass added.

In this latest census, inhabitants were afforded an opportunity to indicate two mother tongues. It turned out there were a total of 30,710 people with two native languages in Estonia, or about 2% of the population.

Diversity. The image is illustrative, collage by Shutterstock.

A little over a thousand sign language speakers

“The largest number of people – 18,160 – declared Estonian and Russian as their two mother tongues. The second most common combination of two mother tongues, Estonian and English, was indicated by 1,220 people,” said Lass.

According to the census, there are 1,464 sign language speakers in Estonia. The Estonian Sign Language has been recognised as an independent language under the Language Act since 1 March 2007.

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