[lg policy] 70% of educators switch between English and Maltese when speaking in class – study

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Apr 16 11:39:54 EDT 2019

70% of educators switch between English and Maltese when speaking in class
– study
Jeremy MicallefTuesday, 16 April 2019, 14:55Last update: about 2 hours ago

Taking into account the different categories of schools available, 70% of
educators switch between the Maltese and English languages as a means of
mediation in the classroom, according to a study titled Language Use in
Early Childhood Education Classrooms in Malta.

The main objective of the study was to examine the various ways in which
early childhood educators create a rich environment for children in which
they use Maltese and/or English.

It was authored by Lara Ann Vella, a Bilingual Research Officer at the
language Policy in Education Unit of the National Literacy Agency of Malta;
Charles L. Mifsud, the Director of the Centre for Literacy at the
University of Malta; and David Muscat, the Chief Executive Officer of the
National Literacy Agency of Malta.

Data for the study was collected using a questionnaire with 440 early
childhood educators in State and in Church Schools, observation sessions in
five class rooms (in State, Church, and Independent Schools) and in-depth
interviews with the early childhood educators.

Speaking at the presentation of the study, Minister for Education Evarist
Bartolo said that the strengthening of bilingualism is crucial.

“We must strengthen the use of Maltese and English between us – we should
have an Official Language Act.”

Other countries which have a form of an “Official Language Act” have
guidelines on how to properly use their respective official language(s).

Bartolo also raised the issue of the Maltese language being a digitally
endangered language, maintaining that if we do not strengthen the digital
presence of Maltese, then this will be the century in which we prepare for
the Maltese language to die.

A study to see what is going on at childcare centers is of similar
importance, the Education Minister suggested, going on to insist that we
also need more children studying a third language.

*Separation of Church and State*

The main differences in language use between State and Church schools lie
in the pre-writing activities, where educators in State Schools focus on
Maltese and those in Church chools focus on English.

The results were then gathered from two separate studies – one Qualitative
study that used the data collected from 440 early childhood educators, and
one Quantitative study that used classroom observations and interviews.

The Quantitative study found that most educators organize activities in
Maltese and in English to ensure that children are exposed to both
languages, with the switching between languages used as a means of

It was also noted that there are notable differences in language use in
State schools based on the percentage of migrant learners present.

The Qualitative study found that all educators believe in the importance of
bilingual development in young children, and that they adopt different
models of bilingual education, which is further influenced by a range of

Vella explained that bilingualism has positive effects on children’s
linguistic and educational development, as they develop more flexibility in
their thinking as a result of processing information through two different

Offering conclusions in the study, it was suggested that early childhood
educators need to reflect critically on their language use and consider all
activities in their classrooms to be language-learning opportunities for


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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