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Government wants to ensure linguistic link with migrants

Edwige Borg welcoming the Prime Minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, and his wife, Kate, at the Parkville Centre of the Malta Community Council in Melbourne, where Maltese is taught as part of the programme at Victoria School of Languages. Photo: Austin Tufigno.

Edwige Borg welcoming the Prime Minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, and his wife, Kate, at the Parkville Centre of the Malta Community Council in Melbourne, where Maltese is taught as part of the programme at Victoria School of Languages. Photo: Austin Tufigno.

The government is to set up a specialist unit based in Malta to ensure that linguistic and cultural links are maintained and developed among the Maltese community in Australia, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said yesterday.

Speaking during a visit to the Maltese Community Council of Victoria's Parkville Centre in Melbourne - where Maltese is taught as part of the Victoria School of Languages - Dr Gonzi said failing to take action at this stage could mean that future generations of Maltese lose contact with their homeland's language and traditions.

The Prime Minister said around four to five people would make up this group. He maintained that it was more possible than ever to enhance links due to the advanced technology available, particularly conferencing and streaming via the Internet. "So we will work on it when we get back."

Around 60 Maltese language students, varying in age from six to 50, greeted Dr Gonzi as he dropped in on one of their regular Saturday morning sessions.

One of the students, Joanne Attard, 33, who was born in Australia and runs her own finance company, told The Sunday Times she had only just started to learn the language after "putting it off for a long time".

She has just started learning the language with her Maltese-Australian husband and her seven-year-old daughter to ensure it stays in the family. And they can already say a few sentences.

"I want to go to Malta for the first time next year as I believe it's important to keep the links and traditions alive."

There are currently 100 students learning Maltese up to matriculation level in the state of Victoria - and the local university recognises it as an accredited foreign language - but numbers have been declining in recent years.

The education co-ordinator at the centre, Edwige Borg, along with Roseanne Pirotta, yesterday presented the Prime Minister with a list of measures they would like to see implemented to ensure that the language continues to be taught. Ms Borg said that if numbers continue to decline there was also a risk that the course would no longer have accreditation status.

The co-ordinators are, therefore, proposing that interactive distance learning is offered by the University of Malta and that an annual subsidy for teachers is made available by the Maltese government.

Teacher exchanges and assistance to set up language laboratories in each state are also being suggested.

"It is imperative that urgent assistance from the Maltese government in displaying leadership and concrete assistance is necessary to assist the maintenance of Maltese language education in Australia," the document says.

Maltese has been taught in Victoria for 27 years and the MCCV's centre contains an extensive library of Maltese books, publications and even newspapers - together with pictures of Malta's presidents, prime ministers and bishops.

But Ms Borg believes that if a break were made with the language, cultural links would inevitably fall apart too.

The Prime Minister, who is looking jovial and relaxed in spite of a punishing schedule down under, conducted a question and answer session with second generation Maltese, who showed genuine interest in the development of Malta as an ICT and financial centre - a topic Dr Gonzi stressed during a lecture at the Victoria University, on the first day of his visit to Melbourne last Friday, in a largely unscripted but engaging speech.

Dr Gonzi also took part in an hour-long phone-in programme at SBS radio - a station funded by the Australian government that provides a radio service in 200 languages specially for migrants - hosted by Joe Axiaq.

Listeners could easily have been forgiven if they thought that the programme was being broadcast from Malta, however, since it was conducted in Maltese and several of the questions concerned local issues - such as when is the government going to bring about a comprehensive rent reform.

As he is doing on every evening of his four-day stay in Melbourne, the Prime Minister last night attended a social function where hundreds of migrants gathered to greet him.

He leaves for Canberra on Tuesday, before going on to Sydney and returning to Malta on August 13.

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