Malta’s secret weapon

The community has an important role to play in the promotion of bilingualism as the home and early years settings are influenced by what happens within it

Malta has a long-standing bilingualism. Many have wondered about how we do it. We cannot take things for granted. We need to ensure that we have a clear strategy to sustain our nation’s ability to communicate in many languages. A key ingredient in our success has been our ability to create the right environment for young children to acquire and learn languages from early on.

With the above in mind, earlier on this year we conducted a diagnostic process of our current language education situation in conjunction with the Council of Europe. This has instigated a number of initiatives to consolidate our position, starting from the early years. We have issued a consultation document to strengthen the measures taken in the crucial early years.

The policy promotes the bilingual development in Maltese and English of young children (0-7 years), in Malta and Gozo. It stems from The National Curriculum Framework (2012) and the National Literacy Strategy for All in Malta and Gozo (2014) and is intended to provide national guidelines for bilingual education. Within this framework schools are to be supported to develop their own language policies to meet the specific needs of their students.

The policy strives to provide learners with opportunities to develop positive attitudes towards Maltese, English and other languages and competences in Maltese and English in different settings. The policy offers direction in the promotion of bilingualism to early years educators; curriculum developers; managers of early years education settings; early childhood teacher educators; continuous professional development providers; and parents and caregivers.


The home environment

The role of parents is vital. A child’s first language, culture and personal identity are inextricably linked. The role of parents and significant others is central to the child’s language learning. They serve as models for the child’s use of language and attitudes towards bilingualism. Parents and significant others are to foster positive attitudes towards Maltese, English, and other languages; engage in meaningful dialogue with children; give priority to the home languages; expose children to Maltese and English consistently; and support school language education policies and practices.


Early years education

Early years educators are to be supported to provide an enriching and an engaging environment that supports and extends language learning opportunities. They should be fluent in Maltese and English and act as models for age-appropriate language use. Bilingual exposure may involve tandems of staff using language based on the one-person-one-language principle. Early years educators are to convey positive attitudes towards the use of both languages, and to reinforce the children’s self-esteem as bilingual learners.

The language practices of young children and their families are characterised by an array of digital technologies. Technology offers the possibility for children to participate in a rich and dynamic learning context. The tablets project will be framed within these educational objectives.


Managers of early years education settings

Early years education settings are bridges between families and the community. They should provide children with care and appropriate learning and language opportunities. Language education in the early years should be integrated into contexts in which the language is meaningful and useful. 


Early childhood teacher educators

The engagement of effective early childhood educators who are fluent in the languages spoken in a community is critical. Teacher education programmes should ensure that prospective educators are equipped with appropriate language competences, knowledge and skills to deliver a programme that is developmentally appropriate for young children. Early years educators should also have opportunities for continuous professional development in both their own language awareness and methodologies that promote bilingualism.

We need to continuously examine our situation. A study of the existing practices in bilingual education in the early years in Malta should serve as an impetus for improving policy and practice and the continuing professional development of those involved in early years teacher education.

The community has an important role to play in the promotion of bilingualism as the home and early years settings are influenced by what happens within it. Awareness raising campaigns on the importance of bilingualism in Malta should be promoted to ensure that positive attitudes towards Maltese and English are to be held in the broader community.

Children are also in contact with language and literacy through technology and the media. The broadcasting media may create further awareness of the importance of both languages and assure the maintenance of adequate levels of quality in both Maltese and English in their programmes. In this way, the links between the family, educational settings and the broader community may be maintained.