What is the language spoken in Malta?

If there’s one question all travelers in Malta ask, it’s about the official language spoken in the archipelago. A brief overview of the different languages spoken in Malta. English, Maltese, Italian, French…? Which are the most popular languages spoken?

English phone booth on the island of Malta

English and Maltese, the two official languages in Malta

English in Malta

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

In theory, English is the second official language of Malta after Maltese. In practice, it is the primary language spoken on the island. One reason explaining the success of language stays in Malta to learn English.

English is both the business and tourism language in Malta. With nearly 2.5 million tourists per year for only 400,000 residents, the use of English has become widespread as the everyday language, overshadowing Maltese. Malta’s leading newspaper, the Times of Malta, is also published in English.

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

Maltese, the language of Malta

The national and official language of the Republic of Malta is Maltese. Maltese is spoken by nearly 95% of the population, or about 400,000 people. 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 were grafted Latin influences, Italian, French, English, and even Tunisian Arabic. Maltese is therefore a language described as a Chamito-Semitic language (or Afro-Asiatic), rich and diverse, using a Latin alphabet.

Official flag of Malta
Flag of the United Kingdom

Why is English spoken in Malta?

The English language, a mark of the imprint left by the British Empire

In 1798, during his Egyptian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to take possession of the island of Malta. Malta has always held a strategic significance during the major invasions of the Mediterranean region. The Order of Malta, still very powerful on the island, decided to surrender to the imposing Napoleonic fleet without a fight, thus leaving the island in the hands of the French.

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

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

It wasn’t 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. Malta remains a member of the Commonwealth but now has a democratically elected president at its helm, while retaining the English language as a legacy.

Most Common Words in Malta

A bit of English and Maltese vocabulary

Oui/nonYes/NoIva [Iva] /Le [Lè]
S’il vous plaitPleaseJekk joghgbok [Yèk yodjbok]
MerciThanksGrazzi [Gratsi]
C’est combien ?How much is it?Kemm ?
Comment allez-vous ?How are you ?Kif inti ? [Kif i’nti]
Au revoirBye/GoodbyeSaħħa [SaHHa]

What does Mela mean?

Mela or Mela Mela is probably the most emblematic word in Malta. The Maltese use it systematically when speaking, both in Maltese and to punctuate sentences in English.

Mela is not a word with a precise meaning. It can just as well mean “ok”, “good”, “agreed”, “that’s enough”, “it works”, etc. The intonation will make the difference in interpretation.