The other day, as I was travelling back to Malta, I happened to overhear two Irish travellers who were obviously seasoned visitors to Malta and Gozo. The topic of conversation was Malta in general, with the possibility of property purchase. Hence, their conversation caught my attention. But it wasn't the property side of their conversation that concerned me; it was the fact that they were talking about the Maltese people's ability to speak English. It was concluded that Malta was a very pleasant place to visit because the people spoke English. However, they noticed that it was the older people who spoke good or reasonable English and the younger, either did not speak English at all or else they spoke it very badly.

Malta, a country steeped in the tradition of English speaking, and having English as an official second language, is rapidly losing the ability to speak the language.

Now why are we allowing this to happen when, in the rest of the world, they go out of their way to get their people to learn English, which is now recognised as the official language of the world?

At this point, I want to make it very clear that I am all in favour of the Maltese language and all Maltese people learning to speak Maltese fluently, but I am not in favour of our population losing the ability to speak a language that is vital for our survival as a competitive country.

We are seemingly going to ridiculous lengths to eradicate the English language from the minds of the Maltese population.

We do not have a local English-speaking television station and practically all the programmes on local television are in Maltese.

Now, although I have been living in Malta for the last 41 years, I have not grasped the Maltese language fully, as I was brought up in England speaking English, and I am too old in the teeth to change now, which is a pity, because today more and more of the Maltese people are speaking Maltese to one another, whereas before they spoke a lot of English.

I once had the occasion to ask a senior local politician which language, in his opinion, should primary school children be taught first at school. Maltese or English? I obviously didn't receive a reply to such a potentially explosive question, but the general consensus of opinion in the room with us was that, due to the vital importance of English today in the world, it has to be the English language that is taught first. Maltese would be taught later and also learned at the child's home, during everyday conversation.

International educational and recreational books are in English. University education, even locally, is in English. Internet is predominately in English. Movies are in English. Television educational programmes are in English. Our tourism depends greatly on our ability to speak English.

The ability and necessity to speak Maltese stops at our shores, and we will be a weaker nation if our Maltese people can't communicate properly with the rest of the world.

In Ireland, they too are very proud of their native language, but they have place names and road signs in both English and Gaelic. They have local English language TV stations as well as local Gaelic language stations. In other words, they have the desire to keep their own language but they also have the desire and sense to keep their people fluent in English.

I am sure the Education Department will completely disagree with me on this subject, just as they did not agree with me that we should slant our educational curriculum towards the real needs of our country, namely the vitally important service industry and our need to create a very acceptable social, business and physical environment.

It is a very hard world out there, and we need every advantage we can get to succeed. Only people at the sharp end really know how hard it is. Losing one of our greatest advantages is absolutely crazy.

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