The EU is giving considerable importance to languages and has proposed the teaching of foreign languages as early as in primary school level.

Raymond Facciol, education officer within the Education Division and head of the Franco-Maltese Centre for Documentation and Research, said a decision may need to be taken soon on how to start offering familiarisation lessons to teach a second foreign language at an earlier stage in schools.

"The EU requires schools to teach the mother language and two foreign languages at primary level, one of which would possibly be French."

In fact, in its first communication specifically on languages, last month the Commission recalled that at the 2002 Barcelona European Council, the heads of states called for at least two foreign languages to be taught from a very early age and asked EU members states to review training programmes at universities to ensure that they equip students in the language professions with the right skills.

The commission also proposed the adoption of national action plans to promote multilingualism, further improvements in language teacher training, adequate provision for early language learning, and more teaching of school subjects through a foreign language. Another recent addition by the EU Commission was the launch of a web portal on languages, which is considered to be an easy point of entry to information about languages of the EU.

The subjects covered range from the Union's policies to encourage language learning and linguistic diversity, by way of a review of language skills in the Union today, to the rules for the use of the EU's own official languages. Mr Facciol explained that what would be proposed was not the formal education secondary schoolchildren receive in languages, but familiarisation in the form of informal lessons which would not involve exams. "With regard to secondary schools, statistics show that French is a subject chosen more by students in Junior Lyceums, while students in secondary schools prefer Italian. However, French is still a strong language which is taught by over a hundred teachers."

The language is offered at sixth form and also as a specialisation area at the University through the BA and B.Ed. courses, as well as at MCAST.

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