Federica Tedeschi explains why Malta has had such success in attracting South American students
Malta has seen a ‘significant growth of Esol students from Brazil, Colombia and other markets outside the EU/EEA area’, according to Genevieve Abela, chief executive of Feltom, the Maltese association of language schools, which sets and monitors quality standards for its members. Data for 2015 released in April by the National Statistics Office of Malta (NSO) shows that English language students from Latin America also ranked above the average in duration of stay. Colombians came first, spending a whopping 15.9 weeks in Malta, while Brazilians placed fourth on the list with 6.5 weeks. This is good news, considering that the average duration per student stands at just 3.2 weeks.
Contrary to the general trend, male students from Brazil and Colombia slightly outnumbered females last year. Colombian numbers increased during the winter months, and most opted for general English courses.
So why do these students choose Malta over any other destination to study English?
‘The beautiful compactness of Malta and Gozo (the country’s two islands) and their still relatively cheap cost of living allow us to propose a great package for Esol students,’ said the Malta Tourism Authority chief marketing officer Carlo Micallef. ‘The beautiful seas, welcoming climate, enchanting heritage of these tiny islands in the centre of the Mediterranean and the genuine hospitality that the Maltese people are famous for allowing us to keep reaching new records in tourism.’
Moreover, the tourism industry is ingrained in the population’s daily life: everyone is welcomed to share the buzzing nightlife and attractions as well as the traditional village festivals, not to mention the island’s three Unesco World Heritage sites.
English is one of Malta’s official languages, so choosing to stay with a host family – as the majority of students did last year – becomes an extension of the learning experience at school.
The classroom, meanwhile, is a microcosm of the wider world. Despite visitors from Italy, Germany and France accounting for almost half of the over 75,500 students, the remaining 50 per cent was a multicultural group of Russians as well as Turkish and students from several Asian countries, just to mention a few of many nationalities. Almost 72 per cent of these learners were over eighteen years old, according to NSO data from 2015.
Another key factor contributing to the success of this destination is the way the Maltese government ensures teaching is well accredited.
According to ELT Council CEO Sue Falzon, no ELT school can operate in Malta unless a licence is issued by the council, which forms part of the Ministry of Education, and no English language teacher can teach without a permit from the same organisation. (The ELT Council was formerly the EFL Monitoring Board.)
‘The ELT Council, through legislation, is working hard to foster a culture of continuous professional development amongst ELT teachers, and Malta is nowadays considered a top-quality destination by students wishing to improve their English language proficiency,’ Falzon said.
From a breaucratic point of view, some Latin American countries are ‘Schengen waivered’ and therefore do not need a visa to enter the Schengen zone (for border controls, of which Malta is a member) if they’re staying for up to three months. Colombia and Peru are on this list.
Federica Tedeschi is a London-based freelance journalist and an English language and Italian language teacher at state schools and a university. She has previously worked for the Times of Malta