Youth 'write English with Latvian words': professor

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Latvian language skills of high-school graduates are falling dramatically, political scientist and University of Latvia professor Jānis Ikstens, told Latvian Radio May 11.

Speaking about national language policy, LU professor Ikstens said that the problem is no longer as much the poor Latvian skills of the Russian minority, but also the knowledge of the Latvian language by Latvians, which has deteriorated significantly.

"As a person who has been in contact with high school graduates for many years, I see in my teaching practice that language skills are dramatically dropping. And in the last 4-5 years there is a great part of students who have Latvian as their mother tongue but in fact they write in English with Latvian words. It is, I think, a ticking time bomb and no [language policy] regulation speaks about this. It is an issue that needs to be resolved quickly," said Ikstens.

In his opinion, this problem could be addressed if the Latvian language, in the eyes of youth, was made into a language in which it is stylish and cool to speak correctly.

“Because what they're doing is combining social networking slang with a relatively modest stock of Latvian words, and there comes God knows what,” Ikstens added.

Inese Lībiņa-Egnere (New Unity), Deputy Speaker, said in the broadcast that high-school graduates have good knowledge of Latvian, but they do not want to speak the correct official language.

“I also think of Russian-speaking young people who have good knowledge of Latvian, but they choose not to use Latvian anyway. How to deal with this problem? It's a very, very complicated matter,” Lībiņa-Egnere said.

The editor-in-chief of “Domuzīme” magazine, Rudīte Kalpiņa, said that Latvian skills can be improved by different types of campaigns. “But no campaign will give a good Latvian language to someone. It starts in the family or simply needs to read books and periodicals (..),” Kalpiņa said.

On April 26, the President of Latvia, Egils Levits, sent his opinion to the Cabinet on strengthening the Latvian language as the only language of the country. The President has stressed the constitutional importance of the official language defined in the Constitution. 

The President has called for the elimination of discrimination in the labor market in the area of national language policy by unduly demanding Russian knowledge. The president called for a differentiated policy on English, promoting its widespread learning, while at the same time eliminating its destructive effect on Latvian. Levits has also previously encouraged to apply a reduced VAT rate of 5% to Latvian printed media and books.

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