The very limited use of the Maltese language online is a major setback to the mother tongue even if there seems to be a strong desire for more websites in the vernacular.

According to a survey released in Brussels, only 6.5 per cent of Maltese internet users choose to browse, read and communicate in Maltese. The overwhelming majority, 91 per cent, would rather use English both when browsing from home or at work.

The survey shows that Maltese internet users are the highest users of English within the EU, after the British.

Besides the regular use of the English language, 20 per cent of Maltese internet users said they also frequently used Italian to browse or communicate and another 3.4 per cent resorted to French.

The Eurobarometer survey, conducted in Malta by Misco last January among a scientifically selected sample of 523 people, shows that, despite the common use of English on the net, many would still prefer to see more websites in Maltese.

Asked whether all websites produced in Malta should also have a Maltese language version, something which would be very costly, 82 per cent of Maltese respondents said this should be compulsory.

“The lack of use of the Maltese language in Malta seems not to be the result of snobbery towards the mother tongue but only an issue related to the limited amount of websites available in Maltese,” an EU official said. “From our analysis, it’s clear Maltese citizens want more content in their own language,” he said.

The results of the survey showed that, on average, one out of two internet users in the EU resorted to a language other than their own to read online. However, this figure hides big variations because between 90 and 93 per cent of Maltese, Greeks, Slovenes, Luxembourgers and Cypriots indicated they would use other languages when online but only nine per cent of UK citizens, 11 per cent of the Irish, 23 per cent of the Czechs and 25 per cent of the Italians said they would do so.

The survey also confirms that English is the most commonly used language for reading and watching content on the internet in a different language than one’s own. Almost half the internet users in the EU (48 per cent) would use English at least “occasionally” while Spanish, German and French would be used by four to six per cent of users.

Again, the practice varies greatly between member states: 97 per cent of internet users in Malta, 91 per cent in Cyprus and 85 per cent in Greece and Sweden use an English language website if the information is not readily available in their language but only 35 per cent of Italians, 45 per cent of Latvians, 47 per cent of Romanians and 50 per cent of French would do so.

On the other hand, Luxembourgers prefer to use French (67 per cent) and German (63 per cent) to English (55 per cent).

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