Nearly a quarter of Maltese children under 10 years old grew up speaking English as their main language, census results published on Friday show. 

The data suggests English usage is becoming more predominant than it once was, with a notable gap between its use as a first language by children versus older Maltese. 

Around 15 per cent of Maltese children aged 10 to 19 consider English to be their first language. That rate drops to around eight per cent for adults in their 20s, seven per cent for Maltese nationals in their 30s and 40s and falls further for senior citizens. 

While Maltese remains the mother tongue across all age groups, those in Swieqi, Sliema and St Julian’s are the most likely to speak English from an early age.

Almost four in 10 Maltese nationals in Swieqi and around a quarter of those in Sliema and St Julian’s spoke the language from early childhood, the third volume of the Census of Population and Housing 2021 from the National Statistics Office (NSO) showed.

It is not possible to compare these rates to previous periods, as the last census - held in 2011 - did not ask respondents to state which language was their favoured one. 

Instead, respondents at the time were asked to list the languages they spoke and whether they spoke them 'well', 'average', 'a little' and 'not at all'. 

Malta's literacy rate just under 96 per cent

Meanwhile, the literacy rate reached almost 96% in 2021, leaving around 20,500 people unable to read and write. This was an improvement of around three per cent from the previous census in 2011, when the literacy rate was almost 94%.

With almost 99% of people able to read and write, Swieqi was the locality with the highest literacy rate in the country, closely followed by Balzan and Attard, both of which stood at 98%.

Luqa reported the lowest literacy rate of just over 89%, followed by Bormla and Marsa at almost 90%.

A survey published the same year as the census was taken, meanwhile, showed the Maltese find their own language easier to speak and understand, but English easier to read and write.

That year, 57% agreed that Maltese was easier to speak than English, with around the same number (55%) disagreeing that Maltese was easier to read and write when compared to English.

Education and employment

Education levels have also risen over the past decade, census data indicates.

Almost a quarter of people aged 15 or older had completed tertiary education by 2021, an increase of more than 10 percentage points when compared to 2011.

Tertiary education includes university diplomas, degrees, teacher training qualifications, post-graduate diplomas or certificates, Masters degrees and PhDs.

Malta's workforce saw even bigger rises.

The number of workers aged 15 or older increased by around 60% from 2011, with almost 284,000 people in work in 2021 compared to 172,000 a decade before.

However, there was little change in the jobs that men and women are doing, the NSO noted. 

Men were most likely to be employed as professionals (16%), technicians and associate professionals (15%) and craft and trade workers (14%).

Women, meanwhile, were mainly employed as service and sales workers (26%), professionals (24%) and in clerical support positions (14%).

As employment grew, the number of people staying at home or taking care of family shrunk by around a quarter. While 23% (over 80,000) of those aged 15 or older were staying at home in 2011, this had reduced to around 13% (more than 60,000) ten years later.  

Correction January 23, 2024: A previous version stated that around nine per cent of Maltese adults aged 20 to 50 speak English as their main language. The rate is lower. 

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