Foreign students to be obliged to learn Maltese at primary school level

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said foreign individuals living in Malta should learn the language as a sign of respect

Education minister Evarist Bartolo
Education minister Evarist Bartolo

Foreign students living in Malta will be obliged to learn Maltese as a foreign language, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said on Tuesday evening.

The minister was speaking in parliament where he was asked to for a clarification on the government’s plans to introduce an O’level in ‘Maltese as a foreign language’.

The proposal was announced last week and has divided opinion, with many feeling that the move risked demoting the Maltese language to secondary language.

Bartolo stressed however that there had been many inaccuracies in the way the story was reported, and stressed that the course would be intended for people who were not born in Malta.

“It's in the name,” said Bartolo. “Maltese taught as a foreign language will be taught to people who were not born in Malta.”

He said that as a nation that was proud of its language, and that wanted to strengthen it, it made sense to oblige foreigners living in Malta to learn Maltese.

“I think we must oblige them to learn Maltese because I think that if they are living among us they should have respect for us and learn the language,” he said, adding that he felt insulted by people who said they could live in Malta without needing to learn the language.

Given that the teaching programme would be intended for foreign students it needed to be taught differently to standard Maltese.

“Everyone understands that people who were not born in the country and who aren’t used to the language have to have it taught as a foreign language,” Bartolo said.

He said that that in the same way that Malta had successfully been teaching English as a foreign language, through the TOEFL course, it wanted to ensure that Maltese schools were equipped to teach Maltese as a foreign language.

The minister stressed that it was not the case that all Maltese students would be allowed to learn Maltese as a foreign language, while pointing out that only 61% of Maltese fifth form students obtained a grade between one and five in their Maltese O’level.

It was clear, he said, that Maltese needed to be taught in a more effective manner.

Furthermore, he said that studies of European languages had found that Maltese was one of four languages that were most at risk.

He said something very few people considered was the lack of digital content in Maltese when compared with English language content. This, he said, Maltese at a disadvantage.

Asked about whether entry requirements to the University of Malta would change, Bartolo stressed that this was up to the university.

He added however that he believed that Maltese needed to remain a requirement and that the requirement should also be considered for entry into MCAST and the Institute for Tourism Studies.