Bilingualism and multilingualism are becoming more of a norm rather than an exception as a result of globalisation, and speaking two or more languages is associated with multiple benefits. Bilingual social identities are shaped by language acquisition and socialisation, and educators construct their own teacher identities and pedagogies through their past personal, educational, and professional experiences.

I recently conducted research on bilingual and multilingual classes in Malta as part of the award of a PhD from the University of Sheffield. The doctoral study provides a basis for critical reflection and discussion among Maltese teachers, to explore how their bilingual identities affect their pedagogical practices.

The study probes teachers’ perceptions on whether, why and how cross-linguistic pedagogies are beneficial within bilingual and multilingual language classroom settings. This was done by investigating the views and experiences of primary school teachers to explore their bilingual identities and beliefs, how being bilingual may influence their pedagogical practices, and to investigate whether they believe they are using cross-linguistic practices during English language lessons.

The process of data collection and analysis highlighted the fact that educators’ pedagogies, beliefs and language preferences stem from their own personal, educational, and teaching experiences, and are embedded in Malta’s sociocultural context.

Maltese teachers believe they use fluid language practices in their classrooms as a natural part of their daily communication, and as a means of reaching out to all their students; however, they are uncertain about the benefits of these practices and of how they can strategically utilise them in a structured manner. Furthermore, as a result of recent demographic shifts in Malta, teachers are raising concerns about the new challenges students and teachers are facing related to multilingualism.

In the current sociocultural context of education, it is imperative that educators are adequately trained in ways to be able to harness the potential of linguistic and cultural diversity

The study supports previous research advocating the use of fluid and hybridised language practices, such as translanguaging as the way forward in meeting the super-diversity of today’s classrooms.

Demographic changes on the island call for an appraisal of the pedagogical use of judiciously hybridising languages in order to provide a socially just and equitable education for all.

Maltese speakers hybridise languages spontaneously, shifting between Maltese, English and possibly other languages as part of their everyday communicative behaviours.

These organically occurring practices also form part of Maltese classrooms, as both teachers and students deploy their full linguistic repertoire to ensure effective communication and understanding.

In the current sociocultural context of education, it is imperative that educators are adequately trained in ways to be able to harness the potential of linguistic and cultural diversity, to address the specific requirements of all learners, and to support children’s own cultural identity and linguistic heritage, while preparing them for a globalised world. This can be achieved through pedagogies that include flexible language strategies and programmes that promote the universal value of English while safeguarding and preserving the Maltese language, and structures that provide adequate measures to support and celebrate migrant learners’ own cultural and linguistic heritage.

In view of these findings, the study makes recommendations to policymakers, stakeholders and practitioners to improve the effectiveness of initial teacher education programmes and professional practice. Additionally, the study aims to provide teachers with much needed concrete guidelines on how to manage flexible language practices which mirror language use in the community. Recommendations are also made for further research to contribute to the existing body of knowledge on the subject.


Dr Panzavecchia is an assistant head at St Aloysius’ College primary school and visiting lecturer at the University of Malta and at the Institute for Education. Her research was partially funded by the Endeavour Scholarship Scheme, Group B, national funds.

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