21 April 2010

Learning Maltese

During the Convention of Maltese Living Abroad, held between the 14th and the 20th of March, a number of delegates highlighted the fact that there are scarce resources available to those living abroad who would like to learn Maltese. I must admit that even though I had an inclination that there are people of Maltese descent who would like to learn the native language of their ancestors, I did not realise that this desire was significant. Even if one factored in that, most probably, the people I spoke to had a greater than average interest in the Maltese language, I came to the conclusion that, if Maltese language resources could be made available to Maltese living abroad a healthy number would have a go at mastering it.



This article aims to analyse the different categories of people who would want to learn Maltese and the degree to which they would like to master the language. It also tries to have a look at who could create or sponsor content creation. The people being targeted here are those for whom Maltese would be a foreign language to which they are rarely exposed. In researching this paper I looked at what is available to people who would like to learn a foreign language such as English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.

Individuals who want to master a foreign language do so for either economic gains or for personal reasons. By economic gains I mean that the perceived outcome of learning a new language would be to increase one’s earning potential. No foreigner would learn Maltese for economic gains. This is because Maltese is not widely used globally, English is an official language of Malta1, business is conducted predominantly in English and Malta is a miniscule island that has been dominated (influenced) by others and has never dominated (influenced) other nations.

There are many reasons why a person may want to learn a foreign language for personal reasons. A few examples are:
  • Wanting to learn the language of one’s ancestors;
  • Taking a trip to Malta;
  • Curiosity;
  • Love of languages;
  • Moving to Malta;
  • Speaking to Maltese friends or relatives

    The type of language training available can be classified as follows:
    • Introductory or Basic: the person would be interested in discovering what the language is all about. Normally a person would seek such training if s/he is curious about the language or is planning a holiday to the country and would like to learn a few basic words used by the natives. This type of training is normally designed to be completed over a short period of time and different modules do not necessary have a sense of continuity between them.
    • Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced structured learning: the person wants to master the language in a more structured way. Each module is made up of lessons. The successful completion of one lesson is necessary to the understanding of successive lessons. Each module would have a test or other feedback mechanism that would allow the learner to check his level of understanding.
    • Targeted: the person is interested in learning a language for a specific purpose. Targeted instruction is designed to equip the learner with the necessary skills to be able to perform a single or limited number of tasks and is normally packaged with other non-linguistic training. For example, a business course aimed at business persons who want to trade in a foreign country may incorporate business language-related training but would also incorporate training on the business customs of the natives with special emphasis on the do’s and don’ts. Since Malta is an English speaking nation with English being the predominant language in which most business transactions are conducted and with a very British approach to business, I do not think that there would be any interest in providing this type of training in the Maltese language.
    The available training is normally provided by one of three entities:
    • State sponsored training: the government of the native country makes available scholarships or makes available grants to those who want to learn the language. For example, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs grants foreign citizens, as well as Italian citizens permanently residing abroad, scholarships for Italian language and culture courses. 2

      State-sponsored training may come in the form of lessons that are either free or are provided at reduced prices. Deutsche Welle provides online courses that are free3. For example, its Deutsch Interaktiv is a free 30-part self-study course that covers levels A1 and B1 of the Common European Frame of References for Languages. Other language related materials on the site are fun courses such as Radio D, a course aimed at Students. Paula and Philipp lead the user through a 26-part series. The two radio producers have to travel across Germany to research mysterious cases. Radio D is ideal for both beginners and those who have some previous knowledge of German.

      Radio France International has a daily downloadable news podcast in simple (and slow) French aimed at those learning the French language4. One of the problems many non-native French language speakers face is that of not being able to follow a conversation spoken at a native’s standard rate of speech. These broadcast also attempt to use a limited vocabulary to make understanding and following the news easier.

      RAI has a TV channel called RAI Education. Part of this station’s programming is aimed at helping followers learn English. The station combines an online site called Il D at http://www.ild.rai.it with TV programming that aims to help Italians master the English language.
    • Commercial: Commercial content covers a wide spectrum. Unlike state-sponsored training, commercial organisations must see the potential of earning a profit on the language module they are developing. The following are some examples of what is available on the market:
      • Computer-based training. Interactive lessons allow you to learn a new language at your own pace and in the comfort of your home. You can repeat a module many times over and use the program to gauge your progress and point out areas you need to improve. Rosetta Stone (http://www.rosettastone.com/) is a leader in this type of training. They have courses in 31 languages. Maltese is not listed.
      • Audio-based training. This type of training is based on the concept of Hear It, Learn It, Speak It. Lessons are available on CD or MP3/iPod player format. Pimsleur (http://www.pimsleur.com) is one company that has developed language training of this sort in over 50 languages. Maltese is not listed.
      • Video-based training. These can come in the form of DVD or online content one can watch. The BBC Language Course for Children based around the character Muzzy is an example of this type of training.5
      • Tutor based distance training. There are numerous variations on this category. One model is that in which the students follow a structured lesson plan in which the tutor facilitates the learning process, hands out assignments and corrects submitted work. On the other hand, there are internet sites such as Verbalplanet.com (http://www.verbalplanet.com) that allow you to select from a list of tutors (who have been rated by previous students). The tutor you choose will set up a personalised lesson plan. You book the time when you want the lesson to be held and communicate online with your tutor on a one-to-one basis using the Skype communication program. Although Maltese is listed as one of the available languages, there are no tutors listed for this language.
      • Holiday based training. Combine learning a language with a holiday. Malta has many commercial English language schools that offer this type of service. Students spend the morning attending classes with the afternoon dedicated to getting to know the country they are visiting while at the same time getting a change to practise the language. For example, the Gothe-Institut provides specialised language courses in which learning German is combined with other activities. Three courses listed on their web site are German plus music, German plus soccer and German plus winter sports6.
      • Institutional training in which a student follows a language course by attending an institution. The difference between this type of training and holiday-based training is that here an individual attends a training institution. What this person does after hours is not taken care of by the organiser of the language training.
    • Free: free training is essentially of the same type as what is described above. It is normally mostly of an automated type that rarely comprises the use of tutors. One of the best sites that catalogue websites which offer free language courses is appropriately called Free Language. It can be found at http://freelanguage.org. The source of free training can be classified as:
      • State-sponsored (described above)
      • Hobbyist: people who enjoy creating content for others to consume. The quality of the material can vary depending on the technical capabilities and resources of the person creating the content.
      • Commercial: many commercial companies that provide electronic content provide a free first lesson or a sample of the training in order to let students experience what they will be getting if they enrol/purchase the course.
      • Others: Anything that cannot be classified above would be listed here. For example, the BBC has a portion of its online website dedicated to teaching visitors foreign languages. Here one can find language courses on various languages. It has a page with 12 phrases read out in Maltese7.
    The groupings listed above do not have fixed boundaries and are therefore not intended to be taken as such. The languages researched are spoken by millions and appertain to countries that have strong economies. There are many reasons why an individual may decide to learn one of these languages other than a love for the language itself. Suffice to say that the languages I have looked at are used natively by millions and belong to countries that are economically very strong.

    In the case of Maltese, the majority of those who would like to learn it would do so out of a love for the language and the nation that speaks it. We should therefore look at what resources exist and try to make some of them available to those wanting to learn our language.

    This article was written by Alan and Connie Bonnici with the input of Joe Meilak.



    1 Malta. (2010, April 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:04, April 8, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Malta&oldid=354318587
    2 Scholarships And Financial Aids. In Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. Retrieved 15:22, April 9, 2010, from http://www.scuolaleonardo.com/Italian-language-scholarships.html
    3 Learning German. In DW-WORLD.DE. Retrieved 15:22, April 9, 2010, from http://www.dw-world.de/dw/0,,2547,00.html
    4 Understanding the news. In RFI - Langue fran̉«aise. Retrieved 16:22, April 9, 2010, from http://www.rfi.fr/lfen/statiques/accueil.asp
    6 Courses for children and teens. In Goethe-Institut. Retrieved 17:25, April 9, 2010, from http://www.goethe.de/ins/de/spr/kuj/kur/deu/enindex.htm
    7 Languages. In BBC – Languages. Retrieved 15:49, April 12, 2010, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/

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