Look at your smartphone apps

I think strengthening the Maltese language is a very important step towards safeguarding its future. In schools we should extend the opportunities as much as possible with programmes that fit the need. Elsewhere, we must make sure we help create a digital ecosystem which serves as a firm platform for the Maltese language. Failure to do so imperils the language for future generations

Look at the apps on your smartphone. Do the same on your tablet and laptop and your social media pages. Go on YouTube and the content you’ve seen in the past. What is the common factor between them? They’re probably all in the English language. Most of the websites you visit are probably in English as well. The Maltese language is simply not there in the vast majority of our online consumption.

Studies have shown that Maltese is one of four languages which is in serious peril due to the digital revolution. Languages such as ours, used by relatively small numbers compared to major ones, are in danger of being absorbed by the English language which is so predominant on the internet and on our technology.

The role of the Maltese language in the digital world is an important discussion to have. It is, by and large, the most serious danger faced by our language. Countries such as France and Germany, whose language is used every day by tens of millions, are also having this same debate because they feel aggrieved. If they are worried, why aren’t we, with a much bigger task at hand?

I think these are the discussions that need to take place because these are the big questions that need to be asked about the future of Maltese, and not creating a storm in a teacup on baseless speculation. If the Maltese language vanishes from the online world in 10 or 20 years’ time, our language will be in jeopardy. We must come up with solutions to level the playing field and make sure Maltese finds its place in our smartphones, tablets and websites. Artificial Intelligence and much improved automatic translation of online content can be very crucial, and possibly our salvation. We’ve seen efforts on Google and Facebook, but I think there’s still a long road to finding the right balance.

In addition to this we must make sure we safeguard the Maltese language in online communications, including texting. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has received text messages in Maltese which need some sort of decoding equation to understand.

MATSEC examiners have pinpointed this out in their reports – where the misuse of Maltese in the context of shorthand texting practices has found its way into assignments and examination papers. This is another important challenge that we must address, and while languages such as English have the luxury of being subject to auto-correction on smartphones, tablets and software, Maltese remains in its mumbo-jumbo form. This is not only worrying in terms of the correct use of the language, but it is not even useful when communicating through messaging.

I think there’s little doubt that more can be achieved in schools. 40 per cent of students who partake in 11 years of lessons in the Maltese language leave compulsory education with little to no certification. This is simply not good enough. The average pass mark might be the same as other subjects, but we’re talking about our own language.

I think we should also address the anomaly in our schools where foreign students are able to learn other foreign languages such as German and French as a foreign language, but cannot learn Maltese as a foreign language.

Having this subject, obviously, doesn’t mean that it would be open to Maltese students since, in their case, it is not a foreign language. From what we’ve seen in the past days, there seems to be a need to explain this.

It is important to highlight the fact that whether such a subject is accepted by any educational institution, including the University of Malta, for entry to its courses remains the prerogative of the same institution and not the Education Minister. A Council of Europe report has been clear on the needs from an educational perspective as to the need of alternative assessment and curricula for those in vocational tracks.

I think strengthening the Maltese language is a very important step towards safeguarding its future. In schools we should extend the opportunities as much as possible with programmes that fit the need. Elsewhere, we must make sure we help create a digital ecosystem which serves as a firm platform for the Maltese language. Failure to do so imperils the language for future generations.

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