70% of educators switch between English and Maltese when speaking in class
Taking into account the different categories of schools available, 70% of educators switch between the Maltese and English languages as a means of mediation in the classroom, according to a study titled Language Use in Early Childhood Education Classrooms in Malta.
The main objective of the study was to examine the various ways in which early childhood educators create a rich environment for children in which they use Maltese and/or English.
It was authored by Lara Ann Vella, a Bilingual Research Officer at the language Policy in Education Unit of the National Literacy Agency of Malta; Charles L. Mifsud, the Director of the Centre for Literacy at the University of Malta; and David Muscat, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Literacy Agency of Malta.
Data for the study was collected using a questionnaire with 440 early childhood educators in State and in Church Schools, observation sessions in five class rooms (in State, Church, and Independent Schools) and in-depth interviews with the early childhood educators.
Speaking at the presentation of the study, Minister for Education Evarist Bartolo said that the strengthening of bilingualism was crucial.
“We must strengthen the use of Maltese and English between us – we should have an Official Language Act.”
Other countries which have a form of an “Official Language Act” have guidelines on how to properly use their respective official language(s).
Bartolo also raised the issue of the Maltese language being a digitally endangered language, maintaining that if we do not strengthen the digital presence of Maltese, then this will be the century in which we prepare for the Maltese language to die.
A study to see what is going on at child care centres was of similar importance, the Education Minister suggested, going on to insist that we also need more children studying a third language.
The main differences in language use between State and Church schools lie in the pre-writing activities, where educators in State Schools focus on Maltese and those in Church schools focus on English.
The results were then gathered from two separate studies – one qualitative study that used the data collected from 440 early childhood educators, and one quantitative study that used classroom observations and interviews.
The quantitative study found that most educators organize activities in Maltese and in English to ensure that children are exposed to both languages, with the switching between languages used as a means of mediation.
There are also notable differences in language use in State schools based on the percentage of migrant learners present.
The qualitative study found that all educators believe in the importance of bilingual development in young children, and that they adopt different models of bilingual education, which is further influenced by a range of factors.
Vella explained that bilingualism has positive effects on children’s linguistic and educational development, as they develop more flexibility in their thinking as a result of processing information through two different languages.
Offering conclusions in the study, it was suggested that early childhood educators need to reflect critically on their language use and consider all activities in their classrooms to be language-learning opportunities for children.