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Maltese and English replaced Italian as the official languages of the Maltese Islands in 1934, under a British administration. In May 2004, when Malta joined the European Union, Maltese became an official language of the EU. This political decision was the end result of an evolution which has tended to reinforce the status of Maltese by affirming its national identity.



Legal framework


A legal framework was established in 1964, when Malta gained its independence, and was subsequently enriched and diversified, most notably since 2003.

In the 1964 Constitution, adopted at the time of the proclamation of independence, Maltese is defined as the national language of the Maltese State and the official language together with English. The following is the relevant legislation.

Chapter I of the Constitution of Malta, Article 5:
  • (1) The national language of Malta is the Maltese language.
  • (2) The Maltese and the English languages and such other language as may be prescribed by Parliament (by a law passed by not less than two-thirds of all the members of the House of Representatives) shall be the official languages of Malta, and the Administration may for all official purposes use any of such languages:Provided that any person may address the Administration in any of the official languages and the reply of the Administration thereto shall be in such language.
  • (3) The language of the Courts shall be the Maltese language:

Provided that Parliament may make such provision for the use of the English language in such cases and under such conditions as it may prescribe.

  • (4) The House of Representatives may, in regulating its own procedure, determine the language or languages that shall be used in Parliamentary proceedings and records.

Chapter VI of the Constitution of Malta, Article 74, states:

74. Save as otherwise provided by Parliament, every law shall be enacted in both the Maltese and English languages and, if there is any conflict between the Maltese and the English texts of any law, the Maltese text shall prevail.

The legislation and recommendations have had the effect of reinforcing bilingualism, while giving Maltese the privileged status of national language. Both Maltese and English are used to varying degrees in various domains and situations. There is increasing interchangeability between the two official languages, with both languages influencing one another profusely.


The labelling or packaging of everyday products, such as food items produced abroad and imported, is in the language of the country in which it was made together with English. The same applies to pharmaceutical products, medicines and derivatives. Local products tendto be labelled more in English, rather than Maltese or even both languages.


There are no strict rules on the language used in advertising. In the Maltese language press, one may also find advertisements or job adverts in English. The same applies to radio and TV: Maltese language channels carry advertisements in English or sometimes short adverts in Italian, as well as in Maltese. Public advertising and street billboards are often in Maltese. Product branding and official publications tend to be exclusively in English.

The National Council for the Maltese Language is working to create more awareness of bilingualism, in particular a balanced bilingualism as opposed to an ‘either/or’ situation, in order to counteract the tendency for English to be the default language in formal, public and official places, events and functions. This is bearing fruit, especially with regard to signage, in particular road signs and hospital signage.


The Education Act, to be revised, (Laws of Malta, Chapter 327) and the National Minimum Curriculum established in 1992 made the teaching of both official languages compulsory, but recommended that Maltese be used to teach Social Studies, History, Religion and Civic or Moral education, while English was recommended for science subjects, computing and mathematics in primary schools. This happens also in state secondary schools. Moreover, in secondary classes, English is also used for design/business and science subjects. Maltese tends to be used more in Personal and Social Development, History and Geography. Maltese started being used for the teaching of geography following a collaborative terminological project between the National Council for the Maltese Language and the Education Officer of Geography, within the Department of Curriculum Management.

Currently, a new National Curriculum Framework is also being discussed and analysed after public consultation took place in 2012-13. An ad-hoc committee is also analysing and making recommendations on a language policy in education to be adopted in state schools.

Students who want to enter the tertiary level of education require a pass at SEC (Secondary Education Certificate) level, the equivalent of the GCSE in the UK. Both Maltese and English are taught early on in school but exposure to the two languages in schools varies considerably, depending on the type of school concerned, namely, whether it is a state, church or private (independent) school. There is a tendency for private schools to place more emphasis on the use of English, sometimes neglecting Maltese completely. State schools tend to give slightly more importance to Maltese, especially in the first years of primary school, introducing English more gradually. The situation in church schools varies a great deal, with some having a tradition of placing stress on English, while others focus more on Maltese. The National Council for the Maltese Language insists on the equal presence of both languages in schools (medium of instruction, resources, signage, information) and, together with the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education (Department of Curriculum Management), has a number of projects dealing with the development and distribution of educational Maltese language resources in schools.

Both official languages are used to different degrees and in different domains in the workplace. Due to the nature of the business world, English tends to be used more than Maltese, particularly in tourism and investment-related fields. In public services, both Maltese and English are used, with English being the preferred written medium. One area the Council is trying to develop and create awareness of is plain language, i.e. a Maltese language that can be understood and used by the public, in particular in the legal and medical domains.


Institutional body with responsibility for developing, implementing and controlling linguistic legislation

The National Council for the Maltese Language (Il-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti) was established in April 2005, on publication of the Maltese Language Act (Laws of Malta, Chapter 470) through which the State undertakes to foster respect for the Maltese language and to make provision for the research, study and teaching of the language. According to Article 3, which sets out the principles and obligations guiding the establishment of the Council, “Maltese is the language of Malta and a fundamental part of the national identity of the Maltese people.”

The Council is responsible for “adopting and promoting a suitable language policy and strategy and to verify their performance and observance in every sector of Maltese life, for the benefit and development of the national language and the identity of the Maltese people”. It nominates a number of Technical Committees (currently five) to develop a linguistic policy and coordinate activities in various domains, such as education, ICT, the media, language research and terminology. The Council works closely with a number of public and private bodies and voluntary associations that have the Maltese language, literature and national culture/heritage as a focus of interest. One very important area is ICT, and the development of digital tools and resources such as spell checkers, corpora, electronic dictionaries and apps. Yet, there are only a few apps available in the Maltese and there are no spell checkers and electronic dictionaries (both resources are being developed). These digital tools are highly needed for the Maltese language to be on a par with other official EU languages.



Legal provisions concerning the linguistic integration of migrants and public linguistic training facilities available to them

The number of non-Maltese students has increased dramatically in recent years. There are no specific legal provisions but discussions are under way on how to best deal with the situation and help foreign students to integrate socially, and especially linguistically, at all levels. This includes the development of resources for the teaching of Maltese as a foreign language. Children of migrants are subject to the same obligations as the Maltese with compulsory schooling until the age of 16.



Financial support mechanisms aimed at encouraging the use of national, minority and regional languages

The Maltese Language Council is funded by the Maltese Government. If the Council requests additional funding for a specific project and their request has the support of both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance, extra funding may be allocated. 


Teaching foreign languages within the education system

The Education Act and Curriculum do not constitute a restrictive legislation in this domain. State, church and private schools are all free to offer as many hours’ teaching of any language other than the official languages as they wish. The Ministry of Education coordinates the content of the curriculum and the nature of examinations for state schools. Generally, apart from Maltese and English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Arabic, Latin (in one secondary school only) and Chinese (a pilot project in some state schools) are taught in schools.



Projects planned by the authorities in the field of linguistic policy

The National Maltese Language Council has organised a number of seminars and plans others dedicated to standardising spelling rules and conventions, especially with regard to English loan words and to Maltese in the digital age.

The Council promotes the dynamic development of the linguistic characteristics of Maltese and cooperates with persons, bodies and organisations in order to increase and augment the recognition and appreciation of linguistic and cultural activities for the further advancement of the Maltese language, both in Malta and abroad, especially among Maltese communities in Australia, Canada, USA and UK, and also Brussels and Luxembourg.

In consultation with the main stakeholders, defined in the Maltese Language Act, the Council is working to adopt an appropriate linguistic policy backed by a strategic plan which will ensure that these are put into practice and effectively implemented and fostered in all sectors of Maltese life.






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