Where is the best place to study English? I get asked this all the time. Most people want to study in the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, or another native English-speaking country… but these can be expensive options. Is there anywhere more affordable to learn English?
Today, I’m joined by the wonderful Alastair Budge from the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast to discuss the tiny island of Malta and how it became a destination for English learners! We discussed Malta’s history, what it is like to study there, and what kind of person should consider learning English in Malta.
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Unsure (adj) – not certain of having doubts
I’m unsure about what to do next – can you help me?
Maltese (adj) – belonging to or relating to Mata, its people, or its language
Maltese is an official language in Malta
Semitic (adj) – Semitic languages are a group of languages that include Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic
Aramaic is one of the oldest languages in the Semitic group
Dive into (something) (phrasal v) – to start doing something suddenly and energetically, often without stopping to think
When I start a new project, I like to dive right in and see how it works
Pique someone’s curiosity, interest etc (idiom) – to make someone interested in something and want to know more about it
The noise continued, piquing her curiosity
Expat (n) – short for expatriate – someone who does not live in their own country
A large community of expats has settled there
Immersive (adj) – seeming to surround the audience, player, etc. so that they feel completely involved in something
The new game is more immersive
Make (something) up (phrasal v) – to invent something, such as an excuse or story
My dad was always really good at making up stories
Equivalent (adj) – having the same amount, value, purpose, qualities, etc
She’s doing the equivalent job in the new company but for more money
Affordable (adj) – not expensive
They sell nice clothes at affordable prices
Proper (adj) – real, satisfactory, suitable, or correct
I’ve had sandwiches but I haven’t eaten a proper meal
To belittle (v) – to make a person or an action seem as if he, she or it is not important
Stop belittling yourself – your work is highly valued
Guise (n) – the appearance of someone or something, especially when intended to deceive
The men who arrived in the guise of criminals were actually undercover police officers
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Who is Alastair Budge??
Hi, Alistair, how are you?
I’m wonderful, Tom, how you?
I’m great, thank you! I’m sure some of my listeners have heard your voice before, but if they haven’t, or even if they have, can you introduce yourself to the Thinking in English listeners?
Sure, so nice to meet you all Thinking in English listeners. My name is Alistair Budge. I’m from the UK originally, but I have been living in the small island of Malta for the past six years.
I also have a podcast, and I guess that’s why you said people might have heard my voice before Tom. My podcast is called English Learning for Curious Minds.
I did a poll on my Instagram last week where I asked for everyone’s favourite podcast and the top 2 results I got were Thinking in English, of course, and English Learning for the Curious Mind, which I thought was a nice time to bring you on to the podcast.
Wonderful. And if anyone who voted in that poll, thank you for selecting English Learning for Curious Minds.
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An Introduction to Malta
You’re currently living in Malta, right?
Correct. Yes, I’ve been here for six years.
I’ve never visited Malta before and I’m sure many of my listeners have never visited either, so can you tell us a little bit about Malta?
Sure. Before I moved here, I’d never visited it either, and I didn’t even really know where it was.
Where I thought it was, was completely incorrect. So maybe I’ll just tell people where it is if they are, like me, unsure about where this country is. So, it is a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean.
If people can think of a map of Europe, think of Italy, go down to the bottom of Italy and there’s the football that that Italy is kicking, which is Sicily, and you put a pin in the middle of Sicily, go down 100 kilometres and you’ll hit a tiny island called Malta.
It’s absolutely tiny. It’s 316 kilometres squared, so it’s very, very small and it’s essentially a rock in the middle of the sea.
But it has a large impact on the world of English, because lots of people come here to study English and there are Maltese people all over the world doing fun, interesting things. Even though the country itself is tiny, it’s got quite a quite a big reputation.
What Languages Do They Speak in Malta?
You mentioned the impact on English – What languages do they speak in Malta?
Good question! That’s another thing that I didn’t know before I came here. There are two official languages of Malta. There’s Maltese, which is a Semitic language, so it has similarities with Arabic.
And English. So, two official languages. You can get by everywhere in English and you go around with street signs in English, everything from the government, all sorts of official notices are in English. Schools are often in English.
How did English become an official language in Malta? Is it spoken by everyone, or is it just a language of government?
How did English become the official language of Malta? Another good question. It all comes back to colonialism, unfortunately.
I can give your listeners a very brief overview to the history of Malta. It’s got an absolutely amazing history and I definitely encourage people to dive more into it if this piques their curiosity.
This tiny island was ruled by the Knights of Saint John, the Knights of Malta, from the 1560s through to 1798, so 250 years or so.
Then Napoleon, the Emperor Napoleon, tried to come and take control of it. The Maltese asked the British, of all people, to come and save them from Napoleon under the condition that they would leave after a few years.
But they never left. Malta became a British colony for about 150 years. From 1813 through to 1964. It was essentially a British colony. Britain forced everyone to learn their language and start speaking English, and after Malta gained its independence in 1964 it has continued to use English as an official language.
Your second question was about whether it’s really a language that people speak here or whether it’s just a kind of bureaucratic language, right?
It kind of depends on where you go! Malta is a very international country. You’ll find people from all over the world, lots of people from Asia, lots of people from Latin America, lots and lots of Europeans.
I think in the last census there were it was over 20% of the population of people living in Malta were not Maltese – so a very large expat population.
In the expat type areas, which is a very large part of the country, you’ll find that lots of people won’t actually speak Maltese, they will only speak English.
If you go into some of the more rural villages, then perhaps you’ll find people whose English is not so good. But everyone has studied English at school, everyone has to speak English to get by in most office jobs and things like that.
Malta is a very good place for people who want to come and experience an English immersive environment, but perhaps without the costs of London or the rest of the UK.
I think I read an article recently about how, in Malta, most of the newspapers are in English, right? If you want to read a newspaper, you need to be able to read English. Is that correct or am I making this up?
No, you’re 100% correct. In fact, I believe all of the major newspapers are in English. There’s the Times of Malta, the Malta Independent, etc. It’s a funny thing because coming from the UK – Malta uses a lot of the same kind of names or styles for things.
Your listeners might know that in the UK there’s a popular newspaper called the Times. There’s also popular newspaper called the Independent. And yeah, Malta’s got the Maltese equivalent, and they’re both in English.
Malta and English Learning!
How did Malta Become a Destination for English Learning??
How did Malta become a destination for English learners? Because I have friends who’ve studied English in Malta. I’ve also recommended Malta as a place for people to study, if they want to study English abroad, but they want somewhere slightly more affordable than London, the USA, Canada or Australia.
How did Malta get this reputation as a good place to study English?
I think there are a few components to it.
First, the fact that people can come and have a proper to immersive experience in English here means that it’s not like going to an English school in Rome or Paris or Madrid, where you go to class and then you go home and speak your native language. Here, people can come and get a proper immersive experience, which is clearly a good thing from an English learning perspective.
Secondly, there is the cost aspect. London, New York, San Francisco, all these kinds of big cities are expensive, right?
It’s expensive to rent an apartment and tuition is expensive, whereas the cost of living in Malta is lower, so people can come, and they can stay for longer! They don’t have to pay quite so much, which is clearly a good thing for everyone.
Then there’s also the fact that Malta is a Mediterranean island with 300 days of Sun every year. It feels a little bit like you’re on holiday, but you’re also learning English at the same time.
There’re definitely a few elements that have contributed to people’s thinking. “I can go to London or Oxford or Cambridge or somewhere like that and it’s going to be expensive. Maybe it’s going to be a bit cold. Actually, my budget is slightly more constrained, and I like the idea of going to the beach and having an international experience.”
It really depends what kind of things people are people are looking for. And then Malta is in the EU, of course. Unfortunately, the UK is not in the EU anymore.
People can come to Malta, and they can very easily travel around to other places in Europe, getting on a short flight to go for a weekend in Rome or Athens or Berlin. For people from non-EU countries, people from Latin America, people from East Asia, I think it is a great thing to be able to come here and be able to visit Europe very, very easily!
How Much Does It Cost to Study English in Malta?
How much would you say the average tuition fees, or cost of education, in Malta is? Compared to the UK? I know some people who pay upwards of £200 a week sometimes for English classes in London. How much would you say it is in Malta?
It’s a really good question. I don’t have the kind of best prices to hand, but I think it can be like kind of 30 to 40% cheaper.
Just in terms of the cost of going to a class it is more affordable. The other thing to mention, and this is particularly important for people who are coming from Latin America or from East Asia, is that it is very easy to find a job in Malta. What lots of people do is come to Malta, and then find a job that helps them to support their studies – working in a in a cafe or working in a restaurant.
It’s very easy to pick up a part time job and I have a friend who has a company that helps people come from Colombia, find a school, and find jobs and things in Malta.
Lots of people like that Malta is a bit cheaper to kind of get started and that Malta is an easy place to find a job that will help you support your studies as you go.
People might stay for 6 or 12 months, or even use this as an opportunity to find a job and move to Europe!
How Does Malta Compare to Other English Learning Destinations?
When most people think of destinations to study English, I’m sure they think of the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.
But as we’ve mentioned, these are quite expensive places to study, costing hundreds of dollars or pounds a month to study. But there are some more affordable places around the world.
Malta is one of the more affordable places. There’s also the Philippines or even Ireland which is also in the EU. So how would you say Malta compares to other affordable English learning destinations?
That’s another really good question. Let me give you my kind of perspective on Malta specifically and then we can talk about how it compares!
I’m not a huge expert on learning English in Ireland or or in the Philippines, but I think we need to go back to what people’s main goal is with going anywhere to learn English. For most people, the English learning element is just part of it, right?
If your only goal is to reach a certain level of English or get a particular certificate, then perhaps Malta might not be the most effective place for that. Your immersive experience might be with people for whom English is also a second language and you might not end up learning the kind of English that you wanted to learn.
What I always advise people to think about is a kind of false economy. What I mean is that if something seems cheaper, overall, it might not actually cheaper.
Let me give you a working example. You can go to Malta and study at a school for 10 weeks, but the same the same amount of money will only buy five weeks in the UK. However, perhaps you’ll end up learning more English in those in those five weeks in the UK than you would in 10 weeks in Malta.
But… you might not have as much fun. That’s the that’s the important thing. I think for lots of people, when they’re considering Malta versus Ireland versus the Philippines, you’re probably also thinking about the fun aspect.
Malta is a place that people come to on holiday. There are beaches, there’s all sorts of bars. For lots of people, when they’re thinking about studying in Malta, one of the components is English learning elements. But another of the components is “I’m going to meet lots of people, it’s going to be a really international atmosphere, and I think it’s going to be a fun period.”
I get lots of messages from people saying, “I studied English in Malta five years ago. I didn’t learn anything, but I had a huge amount of fun.”
Not to belittle the English school’s here because they’re great, but I think lots of people come here and they have a lot of fun, meet lots of lots of people, they make lots of friends and they have a great experience.
Your experience is in English, but if you’re thinking purely from the language learning point of view, there’s lots of distractions in Malta. There could be fun distractions, but it just depends on what your what your goal is!
When comparing with Ireland, for example, Ireland is probably going to be a bit of a more immersive experience because you will find most people speaking English in Ireland. In Malta you’ll find people speaking Maltese and other languages as well, and I guess the Philippines is slightly different too.
I actually don’t know so much about studying English in the Philippines, so I should probably stop trying to try to give an opinion on it. But clearly, for people in Europe it’s a lot further away. For Italians, the South of Italy is just an hour away. It’s very convenient and you find lots of teenagers and young people coming to Malta in the summer to study English for a week or two weeks. They have a lot of fun, and they get to do a bit of English at the same time.
What Kind of Person Should Study in Malta?
Thank you so much for your introduction of Malta and your description of the studying life in Malta. Who should study in Malta? What kind of student should be looking to study in Malta?
I think there are kind of three categories of people who tend to come and study in Malta.
The first category, which is the largest in volume is young people who have managed to persuade their parents to send them on a holiday to Malta under the guise of learning English.
I would have loved that as a 16-year-old – to have been sent to Mediterranean islands by my parents to go and study language and had a lot of fun at the same time!
I imagine most of the people listening to your podcast are not in that category, but I just wanted to mention because that is that is a large category people.
The two other categories really are people who are slightly older, so let’s say 30 plus and they normally take slightly different classes because they are self-motivated and probably paying for it themselves. People who really want to use English to change their life, change their professional opportunities, they want to get promotions, they want to get a new job, they want to use English in a way that they can’t currently do!
Then there’s a lot of people who are sent by their companies. There’s lots of people from Japan, lots of people from Korea, who will come to Malta for a longer period of time. They’ll study business English!
I would go back to your question, which was who should come to Malta?
Yeah, “what kind of student should study in Malta?”
I think if you’re the kind of person who is attracted by having a really international experience, by meeting people from lots and lots of different countries and making lots of new friends, I think you’ll really enjoy Malta. I think if you’re the kind of person who likes smaller environments as well because Malta is a small island!
Independent learners who want to have an international experience and want to have a lot of fun at the same time – I think that kind of person will have a lot of fun in Malta will benefit a lot from it.
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It’s been really interesting discussion and as I said at the beginning, I’ve never been to Malta and I’m sure many of my listeners have never been to Malta as well.
Do you have any episodes on your podcast about Malta or are you going to record any so that we can learn more?
I do actually! There’s one on the great Siege of Malta, which is this amazing period from history, in 1565, when the Ottoman Empire attempted to conquer the island of Malta. And I’m just in the process of releasing a new miniseries on the assassination of a journalist called Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in Malta about five years ago.
Malta also has a slightly dark underbelly that we haven’t touched on, but there’s this miniseries that talks about the assassination of this journalist.
And if you want to know a little bit more about the dark underbelly of Malta, as Alistair has said, go over to his podcast and check out his episodes. But also subscribe to my Patreon, because we’re going to do a bonus conversation afterwards and maybe we’ll talk about this topic over there as well.
But the final thing for you to do Alistair today is let everyone know where they can find you!
Thank you everyone for listening. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you do ever come to Malta, or you if you’ve got any questions about Malta, please feel free to reach out to me directly. You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you if you want to listen to my podcast, it’s called English Learning for Curious Minds. You can find it on all your favourite podcast apps.
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I really enjoyed that conversation, and I hope you did too! I want to say a massive thank you to Alastair for taking the time to come onto Thinking in English – make sure to check out his podcast English Learning for Curious Minds. And the second part of our interview will be available to the English Master and English Lover subscribers over on the Thinking in English Patreon!
After listening to this episode, would you like to study English? If money wasn’t a problem, where is your dream place to learn English?