The third language: giving students the cutting edge for tomorrow’s world

Our job is not to force students in studying this or that subject but to guide and educate students in the subjects that will give them a cutting edge in achieving their dreams in today’s and tomorrow’s world

Learning different languages develops your intelligence and makes you better equipped to live and thrive in today's increasingly borderless world
Learning different languages develops your intelligence and makes you better equipped to live and thrive in today's increasingly borderless world

Learning as many languages as possible opens new worlds for you. And as our national poet Dun Karm shows, you can love your native language without hating other languages. Dun Karm himself was very competent in a number of languages, apart, of course, from Maltese.

Learning different languages develops your intelligence and makes you better equipped to live and thrive in today's increasingly borderless world.

We have young people who are very capable in their technical area or field of expertise, are offered opportunities to spend some time in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and other countries to further their research and career but turn them down as they are not proficient in the language of the country they are asked to move to. And for a country that thrives on tourism, and trade with the rest of the world is its lifeline, having its citizens know as many languages as possible is indispensable.

When I was in primary and secondary school, apart from Maltese and English we were taught another two languages and this served us, and Malta and Gozo, very well. Over the years the education system itself sent wrong messages about the importance of languages.

Unfortunately, a very low percentage of post-secondary students and adults opt to sit for a foreign language at Advanced or Intermediate level. In 2017 only around 5% of students who registered for ‘A’ levels sat for at least one foreign language at Advanced level and 6% at Intermediate level.

In the last three scholastic years, the number of students studying for a foreign language at ‘A’ level has gone down by almost a third. Becoming a lawyer and not knowing French or Italian definitely does not make you a better lawyer. Becoming an engineer or a researcher in science and not knowing German or other languages in Europe and beyond puts you at a disadvantage if you want to extend your horizons.

So, what is being proposed in the MATSEC reform is that you continue studying at sixth form the other language you were learning in secondary school, other than Maltese and English.

Students will be able to choose to study a foreign language either by following one of the current Intermediate level foreign language syllabi or one of the new proficiency syllabi, which will also be at Intermediate level where language will be taught for the real world and how you use it in your daily life. These new syllabi will give equal weighting to listening, writing, reading and speaking. Initially, four new syllabi for proficiency in French, German, Italian and Spanish will be introduced. Other languages will be introduced later on. It is important that languages are taught in an interesting and lively way and are linked to life.

The importance of languages was emphasised by Michael Skapinker, writing in the Financial Times this week. He states that “One can, of course, often get by in English. But those who can trade in their customers’ languages have an advantage, with a deeper understanding of local mores. Some pupils and their parents realise this.”

This is not just something that we have just dreamed up. Over the past four years, we have worked hard to diversify the local foreign language teaching and learning strategies and processes in secondary schools and hundreds of students have, as a result, taken up the study of a foreign language. At the primary level many schools in Malta & Gozo are today facing challenges that were formerly unknown to them, the greatest of which is the student population which has become much more heterogeneous than ever before.

The need was felt to develop a new Foreign Language Awareness Programme, FLAP, in State Primary Schools. This programme is in line with the proposals for language education heralded by the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (2001), in which the primary focus of language education is shifted from achieving mastery of a single target language to developing proficiency (of varying degrees) in several languages and experience of several cultures. FLAP recognises the importance of linguistic diversity and supports language learning as a lifelong task, essential for economic competitiveness and inclusive societies.

Furthermore, the wish to foster plurilingual and intercultural competences in the Maltese students at such an early age is also a response to European linguistic and cultural diversity and an increasing need for mobility and employability. This new FLAP programme has been introduced in State primary schools in Years 3 and 4 as from September 2018. It focuses on helping Maltese learners develop a better knowledge of languages, skills to learn them, and positive attitudes towards linguistic diversity. Discussions have already started with the scope of moving the introduction of the FLAP programme to the Early Years.

This scenario has also led to the introduction of the Subject Proficiency Assessment (SPA) programme in Secondary schools in Malta. The programme is intended to set up a home-grown alternative assessment based on subject proficiency and seeks to provide a clear description of what individuals ‘can do’ with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context. The programme, which is now offered on a national basis in Italian, German, French and Spanish, presently targets students who normally would be at great risk of not obtaining a level-rated certification in the language/s at the end of compulsory schooling. Today there are about 2,000 students following the SPA programme in foreign languages at Secondary level and the results obtained so far exceeded all expectations.

At post-secondary and tertiary level, there exists a language deficit in the teaching of foreign languages when it comes to key vocational and academic areas and there exists a great need to broaden the range of students taking languages at different levels. The first step in this direction has been the introduction, as from February 2018, of foreign language proficiency courses to students following full-time courses at the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST). Furthermore, this year saw the introduction of the new Foreign Language Proficiency Course at MQF Level 3 at GCHSS in Naxxar and Sir M.A. Refalo Sixth Form in Gozo. This October, the programme will also be offered at MQF level 4.

The idea is to give our youngsters the opportunity to acquire fluency in one or more foreign languages while studying their MATSEC programme. Our job is not to force students in studying this or that subject but to guide and educate students in the subjects that will give them a cutting edge in achieving their dreams in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

More in Blogs