Alexandra Valletta on how the island nation became an ELT hot spot
UNIQUE EXPERIENCE If learning English conjures up images of fusty class rooms, then Malta will make you think again (Courtesy Malta Tourism Authority)
Ever-improving direct flight connections to the Maltese Islands, getting students from a wider range of countries and the constant development of a number of key niche markets are behind the years of growth and success that Malta’s tourism industry is enjoying. The English language learning sector has become a core segment within the industry, generating approximately 80,000 students annually.
The sector has done very well for the country. Malta has firmly established itself as a centre of excellence in English language teaching thanks to the high quality and professionalism of its EFL schools. It has also contributed significantly towards employment and the generation of income for the country, and more than 12 per cent of the tourist bed nights to Malta and Gozo are now taken up by language students. The sector continues to grow and it is projected that by end of 2015 there will be fifty language schools in Malta and Gozo that meet the strict regulations and standards of the government/industry joint monitoring board.
The key highlights of 2014’s results show an increase in student arrivals of 3.4 per cent compared to 2013, growth in the average length of stay of 1.8 per cent and a 5 per cent increase in student weeks, while EFL students accounted for almost 4.4 per cent of all tourist arrivals. The sector reported significant numbers from some of Malta’s top tourist markets, such as Italy, Germany and France, but it is also attracting students from non-traditional markets such as Colombia, South Korea, Brazil and Poland. More importantly the students from long-haul markets have a higher than average length of stay, generating a bigger contribution to the sector.
While the summer camp and junior market sectors are firmly consolidated as the mainstay of EFL business during the summer months, Maltese English language schools and the Malta Tourism Authority have been investing significantly in the further development of the adult student market, which is able to guarantee constant flows of mature students with varying degrees of proficiency in the English language during the less busy winter months of the year.
It is becoming increasingly clear that a good knowledge of the English language is key to quasi-universal comprehension in both business and personal situations. A good number of non-English speakers have clearly understood this and are opting for full immersion language courses in a country with an English-speaking tradition.
English-speaking tradition? Malta was a British colony and English is an official language of the country. Language schools? The established language schools provide all sorts of courses from elementary English to more specialised courses such as those in business English or professional language training courses, thereby making the islands an ideal place for intensive language and communication training programmes throughout the year. Experienced and certified teachers conduct classes consisting of a manageable group of students or hold one-to-one focused classes, ensuring that the individual’s needs are met.
What’s more, the language schools can organise different sorts of accommodation to meet anyone’s budgets and interests. Malta’s strong cultural and entertainment scene, as well as the diversity of activities, sporty or otherwise, that one can enjoy make Malta and Gozo an ideal destination for a unique English plus experience. And owing to the island’s typically mild weather, these can be enjoyed all year round – even in off-peak-season months.
It’s what memories are made of. So if learning English as a second language conjures up images of fusty class rooms and incessant drilling as to the correct use of verbs and tenses, think again. The Malta experience couldn’t be more different.
Malta enjoys direct flight connections with 94 cities and is a short flight away from major European hubs such as Frankfurt, London, Munich, Rome, Paris, Milan and Brussels for long-haul destinations. With its dynamic economy, stable environment and favourable climate, Malta offers the ideal environment for full-immersion language training programmes for all ages and any special requirements throughout the year.
Alexandra Valletta is head of EFL and diving at the Malta Tourism Authority: www.visitmalta.com