Malta is a picturesque and scenic small Island off the south coast of Italy, with one of the best climates in all of Europe and very good tourist attractions and cuisine. But just how widely spoken is English there? Can visitors and expats hope to get by there with just English?
Around 88% of the population can speak English, with Maltese English being closely based on British English. English is almost universally spoken in Malta since it is a co-official language alongside Maltese and is taught to youngsters in schools from an early age.
Italian is also spoken in Malta, though to a lesser extent.
Therefore, tourists will have no problems getting by there without any local languages.
It is partly for this reason that Malta is actually a reasonably popular location for British expats especially, looking for a better year round climate without having to learn another language. Islands like Gozo are also becoming very popular tourist attractions for Europeans especially, with some great sights to see.
In terms of administration, Government business in Malta is carried out in both Maltese and English, and English is also widespread in the business world. Children in schools there start to learn English very early on and so almost all adults are fluent in English. Food packaging and road signs are also commonly in English.
The actual history of Malta, and the Maltese language, is complex though. Malta has been ruled by a number of different powers over the centuries, most recently Britain, until it gained independence in 1964. As a result, there are a number of different linguistic and cultural influences at play within Malta, though the bottom line is that English is still very prevalent there because of the past British rule.
Malta has some beautiful harbors and scenery, especially in Valletta the capital, and Marsaskala
Spoken English in Specific Parts of Malta
The overall level of English is so high in Malta that there shouldn’t really be anything to worry about no matter where you go, but just to be thorough, let’s quickly run through the commonly reported experiences of spoken English in the most common tourist spots in Malta.
Valletta – Capital city of Malta, receives plenty of tourists especially from the UK. English spoken nearly everywhere, including hotels, restaurants and bars. Has lots of historical tourist attractions, all of which will be clearly sign-posted in English. Plenty of English language guides and tours available.
Gozo – The northernmost island of Malta, again very popular with tourists so English is nearly universal. Plenty of historical temples and other attractions, all of which will be clearly signed and led in English. All bars and restaurants around the harbor and elsewhere will have English menus, and staff will understand and speak English without any problems.
Marsaskala – A lesser tourist region towards the bottom of the southern island. Still receives some visitors and expats though. English very widely spoken along the main strip and the harbor. English widely spoken in supermarkets; some of them are even run by British expats. Be ready for some expensive prices though for takeaway and restaurant food. One of the more expensive parts of Malta.
Comino – A small middle island nestled between the north and south islands. Has some minor attractions like a chapel and some buildings left over from WW2. Again if you decide to visit, you’ll have no problems with English, despite the sparse population here.
The Maltese & Italian Languages in Malta
Despite the very widespread prevalence of English, Maltese is still very very widely spoken and read in Malta, being co-taught in schools alongside English. It is actually classed as a Semitic language, and takes it’s main influences from Arabic and Italian.
Maltese for example takes prevalence in broadcast media, with the vast majority of TV and radio stations in Malta broadcasting in Maltese, with some in Italian and a few in English.
In terms of newspapers, English and Maltese have a roughly 50/50 split. English is the preferred language for books and magazines, and most internet sites in Malta do actually publish in English.
The influence of the Italian language is obvious, since Malta lies just south of Italy, and being not far from Sicily, has distinct Sicilian influences. Around two thirds of the population in Malta can speak Italian, and it was actually the official language of the country from 1530 until 1934, when English took over.
However, the actual Maltese language can look peculiar in written form, also displaying some clear Arabic influences as well as Italian ones. Here is a good summary of the different influences on Maltese, taken from the video below:
- Roughly 1/3 of the Maltese vocabulary is Arabic
- Roughly 1/2 of the Maltese vocabulary is Sicilian/Italian
- Roughly 15-20% of Maltese is English/French
The spoken dialect can sound very much like Italian to those familiar, with some Arabic and even English bits thrown in there. I remember personally riding on a bus in Malta, listening to the automated messages on the next stop, and briefly thinking I was in Italy, such was the similarity between the Maltese dialect and intonation, and that spoken in Italy.
However, despite sounding similar to Italian at parts, the written language and grammar rules are often very different to standard Italian. There are some “loan words” borrowed from Italian, with Arabic modifications.
See the next section below for some examples of written Maltese – very interesting! See also the interesting video just below for more on how the Maltese language was formed.
The Maltese Language in Detail
Learning Some Maltese Phrases
As we have already covered, you actually won’t even need to learn Maltese if you don’t want to when going to Malta, since English is so widespread. In fact, many English speaking expats live there long term without needing to learn any Maltese.
However, we are putting down some basic phrases below, because it is such an interesting language in terms of how it is a blend of Italian and Arabic influences. It always helps with locals as well to have a few greetings ready.
|Good afternoon||In-nofsinhar it-tajjeb||Innof-sinnar-it-tie-yyeb|
|Please||Jekk jogħġbok||Yekk Yobokk|
|Thankyou very much||Grazzi hafna||Gratzee hafna|
|How are you?||Kif int?||Kif int?|
|I'm fine, thankyou||Jien tajjeb grazzi/Jiena tajba grazzi (m/f)||Yin tie-yyeb gratzee/Yeena tie-ba gratzee (m/f)|
|And you?||U int?||Oh int?|
* The m/f notation refers to how the phrase alters depending on whether it’s a man or woman saying it.
For those familiar with Italian, you can see the influences there (Grazie/grazzi), and occasionally some French, but also the distinctive Arabic influences and the tendency to cross h’s and some other letters which makes Maltese a very unique language.
The pronunciation of some Maltese words is also quite difficult unless you are really familiar with the rules; thankfully you won’t really need much more than the most basic greetings just for fun and politeness.
Language & Travel Resources For Visiting Malta
- Essential stats on Malta:
- Population: 519,000
- Time zone: EST +6 hours (winter), +7 (summer); GMT +1 (winter), +2 (summer)
- Currency: Euro
- International calling code: +356 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the left
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in many different currencies (including Malaysian Ringgit) and spend for free on your card.
- See our page on English in Italy to compare the similarities between Maltese and Italian and see the Italian influences on the language.
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you’re using a foreign bank card to draw out euros at an ATM, you’re likely to get stung with high fees. See our guide on some good multi-currency card options to spend in euros for free, and also withdraw money from ATMs cheaply.