Language Education Policy Profile



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Language Spoken

Nos


Age-group

0-4

5-9

10-14

15-19

20-29

30-39

40-59

60-79

80+

Age unknown

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%
Lithuanian

355846

1.3

5.8

10.2

12.5

11.9

11.4

12.9

8.1

4.4

4.6

Russian

2099928

1.8

6.7

27.0

61.8

78.2

81.5

79.2

56.6

28.6

15.3

Polish

307678

0.5

1.6

2.6

4.5

9.1

10.6

12.1

11.9

12.3

3.4

English

589553

0.1

3.3

34.4

51.1

32.2

17.0

11.2

2.2

0.8

5.8

French

67520

0.0

0.1

1.9

5.0

3.6

2.1

1.9

0.7

0.4

1.2

German

284896

0.0

0.3

9.4

21.2

13.9

8.8

7.5

3.7

3.8

2.1

Source: Lithuanian Statistics Department. Special tabulations

The other notable feature of Table 6 arises from a comparison of the second language repertoires of the teenage group (15-19 yrs) with the middle-aged cohorts (40-59 yrs). Here it can be seen that the higher levels of competence achieved by the younger cohort in the case of English, German and French are likely to eventually increase the proficiency levels of older cohorts, even allowing for some component of slippage in the post-school years. The opposite is the case with Russian and Polish and this will ultimately lead to a decline in overall proportions of adults who speak these languages as second languages. As a second language, Lithuanian is maintaining a stable level.


1.5 First and Second Languages Combined


The overall linguistic repertoires of minority groups is a combination of languages learned in the home as native or mother tongues, plus the languages learned in school or in later life. Table 7, therefore, combines all of the language data that has been examined in the previous sections.

Table 7: Combined percentages of languages claimed as native/mother tongues and other (second) languages by Ethnic Group

Ethnic Group



Language Spoken

Lithuanian

%


Russian

%


Polish

%


English

%


Lithuanian

97

64.4

7.9

18.0

Russian

72.1

95.1

14.6

15.9

Poles

68.9

86.4

90.9

6.9

Belarussians

57.8

92.5

37.2

7.9

Ukrainians

64.1

91.9

13.3

14.5

Other

55.5

59.3

13.3

17.3

Overall

96.3

68.3

14.4

16.9

Source: Lithuanian Statistics Department. Special tabulations


Some 96% of the total population speak Lithuanian as a first or second language. This places it some distance ahead of Russian with 68% on the same measures. Polish is at 14%, but has now been overtaken by English as the third most widely spoken language, albeit primarily as a second language.

The scale and range of current plurilingualism is striking. A majority of all ethnic groups are at least bilingual, and significant percentages are trilingual. In this regard, the Polish community is particularly impressive, with two thirds or more claiming proficiency in three languages – Polish, Russian and Lithuanian.

When viewed by age-group, the changing pattern of combined linguistic repertoires becomes apparent.

Table 8: Overall Linguistic repertoire by age group

Language

Age group


0-4

5-9

10-14

15-19

20-29

30-39

40-59

60-79

80+

unknown

Lithuanian

87.9

93.0

97.0

96.8

92.4

91.0

92.7

89.3

89.3

30.3

Russian

6.1

11.1

33.3

69.9

86.1

89.0

89.0

65.7

35.6

22.6

Polish

4.9

6.0

7.6

9.3

14.0

16.0

18.2

18.9

18.6

4.0

English

0.1

3.3

34.4

51.1

32.2

17.0

11.2

2.2

0.8

5.8

German

0.0

0.3

9.4

21.2

14.0

8.8

7.5

3.8

3.8

3.1

Source: Lithuanian Statistics Department. Special tabulations

The proportion of native/mother tongue speakers is the dominant factor in the composition of Lithuanian speakers. In all cohorts, about 90 -100% of Lithuanian speakers have learned it as their first language. Although the overall proportions of the population who can speak Russian in adult cohorts is over 80%, all but about 6% have learned it as a second language. This is also true of Polish, English and German speakers, albeit within lower overall percentages.

As already noted, but also apparent in this table, it would appear that the percentages speaking Russian and Polish are likely to decline in the long-term, but the percentages speaking English and German are likely to increase.

Finally, before leaving this section on language speaking abilities it should be noted that all of the census questions which elicit this data are of a general nature, and assessments of ability are made by the respondents themselves or, in the case of children in particular, by the head of household. It is possible that ‘real’ levels of ability may vary a good deal more among speakers than these statistics reveal. Nonetheless, survey evidence would suggest that respondents do, in fact, discriminate meaningfully when asked to rate their language abilities.

For example, in 2001, Russians and Russian-speakers in Professor Rose’s Baltic Barometer survey were asked about their capacity to take on a job where a knowledge of Lithuanian was required.

Table 9: Question: ‘Could you hold a job where knowledge of Lithuanian was needed?’



Response

Russian-speaking

%


Yes, definitely

Yes, with difficulty



60

31

No, don’t know Lithuanian

8

Source: Rose (2000)
Although this question is specifically addressed to the demands of a work situation, the 60% who said ‘yes, definitely’, compares favourably with the 55-70% of minority groups who said in the 2001 Census of Population that they could ‘read, write and speak’ Lithuanian.

In the same Baltic barometer Survey, a second on the same topic was asked of Lithuanian and Russian-speakers alike.

Table 10: Question ‘ If a well paying job, for which you were qualified, was advertised in (the other language), would you apply?’ (Percentages)


Response

Lithuanian

%


Russian-speaking

%


Yes

58

65

Unsure, it depends

23

27

No

19

8

Source: Rose (2000)

Again, the percentages who unambiguously answer ‘yes’ correspond closely to the census percentages who claim knowledge of the respective languages – 64% of Lituanians claim to be able to read/write/speak Russian while, as noted above, 55-70% of non-Lithuanians claim to be able to read/write/speak Lithuanian.

While not conclusive, the close correspondence between census and survey data clearly adds to the credibility of both.

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