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Malta - Speaking the Language

Owing to its size and geography, Malta has a long history of being conquered and run by foreign powers. The Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Order of St. John, French and, from 1800 until Independence, the British have all ruled the Maltese islands. In 1964 Malta became an independent state, and then became a fully fledged parliamentary republic in 1974 before joining the European Union in 2004.

The indigenous population of Malta, who are a distinct ethnic group, speak Maltese. The language is descended from a form of Arabic which developed in Sicily and arrived in Malta somewhere between the end of the 9th and 12th centuries AD. Much of the vocabulary can trace its roots to Italian and Sicilian, with a large input from English. The Maltese language has always been written in Latin script rather than Arabic, with the first known example dating from the late Middle Ages. In all these aspects it reflects the input of new people and rulers on a small island’s language development.

Today Maltese is spoken by approximately 98% of the population, as well as by thousands of Maltese emigrants. The urban and rural dialects are different, with the urban dialect considered to be ‘standard’ Maltese.

The Maltese language became the official language of Malta in 1934, along with the English language. Because Malta was an English crown colony, the English pronunciation and spelling follows the form from England and not the US.

Approximately 88% of the Maltese population can speak English. There are rural areas which have not been subject to an English speaking tourist influx, and an older generation who did not have the opportunity to learn English at school. However in urban areas young people can usually speak English fluently.

About 30% of Malta’s annual tourists arrive from the UK. Given that the tourist industry generates some 15% of Malta’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the importance of speaking English is clear to anyone looking for employment in the hospitality industry.

Italian was replaced by English as one of Malta’s two official languages in 1934. Today Italian can be spoken by approximately 66% of the population, with about 8% using it as their preferred first language at home. Because of Malta’s business links with nearby Italy, there are a number of workplaces where a fluent grasp of Italian will be essential.

The majority of TV broadcasts in Malta are in Maltese or English, and the prime time offerings will centre around productions from the US. BBC channels are not usually available unless a subscription service, such as Sky, is used. The BBC iplayer will not work unless a proxy server is used to hide your location, but this is against the BBC terms of use for the iplayer. The Melita cable service offers limited access to BBC programmes should your property be connected for one off installation fee of €15.

Malta does have its own industry of TV production companies. There are examples of collaboration with overseas production companies, and initiatives which encourage screenwriters and TV technical staff to hone their skills. However, tight funding is an issue for the Maltese TV industry. Because they lack the advertising income of primetime slots, the home-grown programmes rely on product placement and sponsorship to provide production funds. Actors are poorly paid and frequently arrive on set after finishing their main job. Some are taken on without acting experience. Having to learn scripts extremely quickly is a key skill as they are finished very close to filming - and sometimes during filming. But for all that, Maltese TV is very popular with much of the local population.

For fluent Italian speakers, it is easy to receive TV broadcasts from mainland Italy.

The majority of radio broadcasts are in Maltese, followed by English. Italian speakers have good access to radio programmes broadcast from mainland Italy.

The newspaper and periodicals available on Malta are fairly evenly split between Maltese and English. Many of them have an online presence which can be read in both of the official languages. The Times of Malta, Malta Today, The Malta Independent and L-Orizzont are widely available across the islands.

On the internet, there are a limited number of websites available in Maltese. The government sites are available in both English and Maltese.

It is possible to obtain employment in Malta to teach English, especially to teenagers, in private language schools. If you are from outside the EU, a job offer is required in order to apply for a work permit, which you must receive before starting work.

Regardless of your country of origin or citizen status, you must obtain a twelve month Teaching Permit from the EFL monitoring board. In order to obtain the permit you must meet the following criteria:

• Be at least 18 years old;
• Have successfully completed a 60-hour TEFL Induction Course and have either an A’ Level in English with grades A,B or C; or successfully passed TELT; or possess a CELTA or Cert.Tesol or any comparable qualification (validated by the MQC);
• Have a matriculation level standard of education (for applicants under 25 years old);
• Have a clean and recent police history.

The police certificate can be produced quickly (usually within an hour) at the Police GHQ in Floriana following the payment of a small fee. You will need to present your original qualification certificates and your police conduct report to the ELF monitoring board for validation. The ELF monitoring board can usually issue a temporary permit straight away, with the twelve month permit arriving two or three weeks later.

For many people the simplest approach is to arrive in Malta, obtain the police report and visit the EFL monitoring board in the same day, and then start teaching from the following day. This saves a trip across to Malta in advance of starting work, though if the documents and temporary permit are not immediately available you will need to wait before starting to work.

The majority of English language school work will be found in the Silema and St Julians area, and vacancies are often filled by candidates writing directly to the school with their CV and a good covering letter. It is usually seasonal work, available from April to September, and the low rate of 7 to 10 Euros an hour reflects the low labour costs of Malta generally. Teaching is normally delivered in split shifts, so some evening work can be expected. The income tax rate is approximately 20%. Overall living costs in Malta are quite high compared to the income expected from these short term language teaching positions, so it should be seen as a way to cover the basic costs of experiencing a simple life abroad rather than a plan to earn a good savings pot for the future.

Teaching English on a private basis is rare and you would not have a good chance of obtaining a work permit without someone offering a decent number of hours for you to financially support yourself. Language schools do not allow you to take on pupils privately while you work for them.

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