Mater Day (the hospital), Pilatu (pilot), and other howlers plaguing Maltese exam

Large quantity of orthographic mistakes leaves examiners exasperated: despite many years of studying, Maltese students still continue to get their spelling wrong

Flying a plane? Don’t mind if I do... Michael Palin in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. Students sitting for the Maltese ‘O’level used the incorrect ‘pilatu’ (derived from the English ‘pilot’ but actually meaning the Maltese for Pontius Pilate) as a synonym for ‘bdot’, the Maltese for ‘pilot’
Flying a plane? Don’t mind if I do... Michael Palin in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. Students sitting for the Maltese ‘O’level used the incorrect ‘pilatu’ (derived from the English ‘pilot’ but actually meaning the Maltese for Pontius Pilate) as a synonym for ‘bdot’, the Maltese for ‘pilot’

Orthographic mistakes plaguing Maltese ‘O’level exam papers have examiners worried, year after year.

“The large quantity of orthographic mistakes reinforces the idea that after many years of studying, Maltese students still continue to get their spelling wrong,” a report by examiners on the performance of candidates for the Maltese ‘O’level exam concludes.

The examiners’ report reveals “the level of culture” of those who actually used the word ‘pilatu’ – which is the Maltese name for the biblical Pontius Pilate – when asked for the synonym of ‘bdot’ (pilot), or those who misspelt Mater Dei hospital as “Mater Day” or “Mother’s Day” hospital.

Despite these mistakes, the report thankfully notes a large number of good answers, including citations from Immanuel Mifsud poem Aqta’ Fjura u Ibni Kamra, when writing an essay on the environment.

A number of students used interesting and imaginative metaphors in their writings: “I felt like the Sant Antnin plant with all the plastic bags I held in my hand,” a student wrote on a shopping experience; while another writing on obesity observed: “while in other countries diners would already have finished their dessert, in Malta we would be still eating the appetizers.”

Those writing on the environment referred to over-development and construction, the uprooting of trees and the amount of plastic in the sea causing the deaths of turtles and fish, and in their solutions to these problems students recommended clean-ups and avoiding buying single-use plastics.

One student was congratulated for his metaphor on the environmental situation in Malta: “Malta is like a rose. Nature is the flower and buildings form the stalk of this rose. But I would like to ask the question: where is the flower because all I am seeing are thorns.” When concluding, he augured that “in the future there will be less thorns in the flower.” The examiners also found a number of references to Mifsud’s Aqta’ Fjura u Ibni Kamra.

Despite these positive aspects the examiners also noted the use of incorrect terminology lifted off other languages like English and Italian, like “gassijiet serra” (greenhouse gasses), “elettriku renewabbli” (renewable energy), “jiddistrijuwixxi l-pjaneta” (destroying the planet), “atmosphera” (atmosphere), “surġerija” (surgery), u “tippreventa” (to prevent).

Some candidates also used terms taken wholesale from Italian, such as “Kienet ġurnata bellissima” (it was a very beautiful day) and “Ninkwinaw l-ambjent bil-fattoriji” (we pollute the environment with factories).

Others relied on English words in phrases like “nixxemex fuq is-sand” (sunbathing on the sand) and “ried joqtolni bil-fear” (he wanted to scare me to death). Some even literally translated Italian or English expressions in referring to a car’s body as “il-ġisem tal-karozza”, and bone fractures as “fratturi f’għadmu”.

One student referred to obese people as “nies li huma ta’ tqala żejda”, while another answering a question on shopping referred to needing a new pair of football shoes because his were ancient, as “anzjani”.

The examiners expressed a positive verdict on students’ performance in the oral exam. The report also notes a discrepancy between students who performed well in the language component but underperformed in literature. But these were balanced out by those who under performed in language component and performed well in literature. Only 3% of all registered candidates achieved a top grade but 62% surpassed the pass mark, making them eligible to continue their studies at sixth form level.

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