What is the language spoken in Malta?


If there’s one question that all travelers ask before coming to Malta, it’s about the official language spoken in the archipelago. A quick overview of the different languages spoken in Malta: English, Maltese, Italian, French… What are the most popular languages?

Planning a trip to Malta

English and Maltese, the two languages used in Malta

English, the most used language in Malta

Malta was a former British colony. The archipelago was part of the British Empire from 1800 to 1964. The English language has remained as one of the two official languages of the island alongside Maltese.

English is theoretically the second official language of Malta after Maltese. In practice, however, English is the primary language spoken on the island. This is one reason why language stays in Malta to learn English are particularly successful.

English is the language of business, education, and tourism in Malta. With more than 2.9 million travelers per year for only 542,051 inhabitants, the use of English has become widespread as the everyday language at the expense of Maltese. Malta’s first newspaper, the Times of Malta, is also published in English.

Malta is still part of the 53 member states of the Commonwealth. However, contrary to popular belief, it is no longer part of the 16 Commonwealth realms, such as Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, which still recognize Charles III as head of state.

Maltese, the official language of Malta

The national and official language of the Republic of Malta is Maltese, constitutionally. Maltese is spoken by about 400 thousand people, which represents 70 to 75% of Malta’s inhabitants, a percentage that has decreased due to Malta’s significant demographic evolution in recent years. As a European country, Maltese is one of the 24 official languages of the European Union.

Malta has been colonized many times, and Maltese has been shaped by these various cultural influences. The root of the Maltese language comes from Sicilian Arabic, on this linguistic base have been grafted Latin influences, Italian, French, English, and even Tunisian Arabic. Maltese is therefore described as a Afro-Asiatic language (or Chamito-Semitic), rich and varied, and uses a Latin alphabet.

What about other languages spoken in Malta

While English and Maltese are the most used languages in Malta, it is important to remember that the archipelago is very cosmopolitan, nearly one in four inhabitants in Malta is not of Maltese origin, and very touristy. Indian, Italian, French, and Latin American communities are very present in Malta. It is therefore very common to hear Hindi, Italian, French, or Spanish spoken in everyday life in Malta. English remains, however, the common language.

Why is English spoken in Malta?

The English language, a mark of the British Empire’s influence

In 1798, during his Egyptian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to take possession of the island of Malta. Malta has always been strategically important during the major invasions of the Mediterranean rim. The still powerful Knights of Malta decided to surrender to Napoleon’s imposing fleet without a fight, thus leaving the island in French hands.

After two years of extortion, pillaging, and coercive laws, the Napoleonic troops became so unpopular that the people of Malta called for help from France’s eternal rival and arch-enemy: the British Empire.

The British freed Malta from French rule after a two-year embargo but then decided to keep the archipelago for themselves. In 1816, the British officially annexed the island as a colony of the British Empire.

It was not until September 21, 1964, that the island was decolonized and gained its independence. On December 13, 1974, the archipelago officially became the Republic of Malta. While Malta remains a member of the Commonwealth, it now has a democratically elected president at its head and has retained the English language as a legacy.

The most common words in Malta

Common vocabulary in English and Maltese

Yes/NoIva [Iva] /Le [Lè]
PleaseJekk joghgbok [Yèk yodjbok]
ThanksGrazzi [Gratsi]
How much is it?Kemm ?
How are you?Kif inti ? [Kif i’nti]
Bye/GoodbyeSaħħa [SaHHa]

What does “Mela” mean?

Mela or Mela Mela, is probably the most emblematic phrase in Malta. Maltese people use it consistently in speech, both in Maltese and to punctuate sentences in English.

Mela is not a word or expression with a precise meaning. It can mean “okay,” “well,” “agreed,” “that’s enough,” “it works,” etc. The speaker’s intonation and the context will make the difference in how it’s interpreted.