Embracing code-switching – the much-maligned practice of mixing English and Maltese – and turning it into an asset could be the way forward for language education in Malta, a new report has suggested.
According to the Language Education Policy Profile, prepared by Council of Europe experts, code-switching is widely practised in education and society at large and is often “self-evidently successful”.
Despite this, the report notes, “it does not have more than grudging official sanction and good practice is not systematically analysed as a basis for teacher education”.
Rapporteur Elidir King said code-switching is a normal phenomenon in any bilingual environment and can be positive as long as it is not used to cover up deficiencies in one of the languages. “The question is whether we train teachers to manage it or just allow it to happen spontaneously,” he said.
The report’s recommendation is “validating code-switching” by researching the most successful practices currently being used by teachers and developing new training programmes to promote more effective approaches.
Dr King said the key challenges flagged by the report were the perception that standards were falling, mixed pupil performance levels and an excessive formality in teaching and curricula.
The report also highlights the lack of a framework for teaching Maltese as a foreign language and the inexperience in supporting mi-grant languages.
Code-switching is widely practised in education and society but does not have more than grudging sanction
“We know that is important for migrants not only to learn the local language but also to continue in their own languages,” said Dr King.
“We need to explore how we can benefit from having children with different nationalities and languages in the school system.”
Dr King also questioned why Arabic was not more widely taught in schools, despite its linguistic links with Maltese and its commercial, strategic and social importance.
The report proposes that the range of languages taught in schools should be expanded to include major world languages like Arabic and Chinese, suggesting that promoting Arabic “in a relatively small number of institutions” could ultimately benefit Maltese society in a range of ways.
Speaking at the launch yesterday, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said it was important, in today’s world, to think beyond bilingualism and expose children to as many languages as possible.
He added that in light of the upcoming review of the Learning Outcomes Framework, the time was right for a comprehensive action plan on the basis of the report’s recommendations.