We have to fight for our Maltese language

Learning the local language means that you're adapting to the local community, and that is a crucial element in settling in

What language do you speak? That is one of the first questions foreigners ask when us Maltese are abroad. They are fascinated by it, especially the astute ones who realise it's not Arabic. As Maltese, I think all of us have gone through this, we proudly explain that our language is a bit of a mix, derived from centuries of exposure to different languages and joined into one.

We then explain to them that, yes, we're under half a million and yes we do have our own language. The Maltese language is very close to our hearts as a country, because it gives us identity. It's part of our DNA, and in a way it is exactly that. It's the story of a country and of a society that faced different obstacles throughout its journey. I think it goes deeper. It's what differed us from our colonial masters. It's what brought us together over time, and made us who we are.

Today, the Maltese language is facing serious challenges. A more cosmopolitan Malta is bringing new levels of standards in Malta, and that is positive. It's good to have a less insular Malta, who can compete on the global stage. But it also means that Maltese is fast becoming an afterthought.

The most pressing issue here is that it's not a case that someone decided that Maltese is no longer needed, but it's more a case of a death by a thousand cuts. This is because the people coming to Malta to work are using English. The outcome of this can be seen everywhere: in offices, restaurants, schools and across society.

The second most pressing issue is technology. You switch on your phone and it's in English. You google in English. You play games on your tablet in English. YouTube videos, so crucial for young children, are in English. You type something in Maltese on your computer or phone, and it assumes it's English and tries to correct it. Technology is pushing us to use English and many are succumbing to it. I even dare say that, in a way, there's almost no chance of escaping it.

This is the context of the challenge in front of us, and the Maltese language needs radical policies to bring back some balance into the equation.

Earlier this week we launched a consultation policy on the Maltese language in schools and on top of the agenda is that all those who follow the national curriculum must learn Maltese. I know this may be partly unpopular by some, but I think it is a must. If you were in Germany or France there would be no discussion about this. In my view, if you are a foreigner who settles in Malta the least you can do is learn Maltese.

Learning the local language means that you're adapting to the local community, and that is a crucial element in settling in. Integration is a two-way street. I think as Maltese we've been very welcoming and accommodating over the years to such an influx, but the other side must also work towards achieving a common goal.

On the educational side, we do have the responsibility of making sure that the curriculum being offered to foreigners learning Maltese for the first time is sensible, adequate and gives them a fair shot of actually learning the language. In the UK, the English language is taught in seemingly infinite ways to cater for the different audience, and we must add that flexibility to Maltese so that we are successful in getting more people to learn it. This sometimes has been interpreting as dumbing down, but I reject the notion. It simply means that we are understanding the context in front of us and adopting a strategy to make sure we reach these young children and help them learn Maltese in their own way, based on their differing circumstances.

The end goal is, ultimately, for them to be as proficient as possible in the Maltese language.

This alone is not a miracle cure that will solve all problems. There's still a lot to be done, and as I said earlier, technology is another huge challenge that we must confront.

However the first steps are being taken in education and valuing our own language is the next step. Each and every Maltese person has the duty to cherish his or her language, and extend what is ultimately the DNA of a population into the next decades.

More in Blogs