||Malta has the triple whammy of sea, sand and sun!" notes Pia Zammit, Director of Studies at Skylark Mediterranean School of English, summing up the holiday image that characterises this small, Mediterranean island. While this alone is enough to set Malta apart from other northern hemisphere English-speaking destinations, the country also has, as Zammit hastens to explain, much more to offer the international student visitor. "We have a wonderful 7,000 year history and a rich culture. We are a friendly, helpful and industrious people," she says.
As Gaby Privitera from Global Village English Centre, based in St Paul's Bay, puts it, "Malta has something for everyone." While the "great holiday atmosphere" is a major draw, especially for the many younger students who come here, the island's history and culture exert an equally strong pull, especially for more mature visitors.
Less than three hours by air from all the principal European capitals, Malta is easily accessible. Once there, students find it easy to travel around, as Isabella Conti at Sliema's Institute of English Language Studies, explains, since the island has a good and inexpensive bus system, with regular services connecting its towns and villages with the capital, Valletta. As Malta covers just 316 square kilometres, distances are never long, so wherever students choose to stay on the island, they can make the most of all that is on offer.
"Due to short distances between towns and villages, students…can combine various activities in one day, such as visiting historical places, going to the beach and enjoying the safe nightlife," notes David Meadley at Gateway International School of English (GISOE) in San Gwann.
His school is located in a quiet, residential area overlooking St Julian's Valley in the north of the island, just 12 minutes' walk from the picturesque Spinola Bay. At the same time, the island's hotspot for nightlife, Paceville (a district within St Julian's) is only 15 minutes away. Here, "streets and streets of bars and clubs" await, with the added attraction, as Meadley highlights, that "Malta is one of the safest destinations in Europe".
Those seeking an alternative safe location that is, nevertheless, in close proximity to all the action, need look no further than Swieqi. This is "a lovely and quiet residential area", according to Joe Aquilina at Swieqi-based Clubclass English Language School, situated 10 minutes' walk from St George's Bay, Paceville and St Julian's. Students are attracted to this part of Malta, he explains, because the university is close by and there is a large student community living in the area.
Those seeking out the full "sea, sand and sun" experience may do well to opt for St Paul's Bay. Typically Mediterranean in character, it is, according to Privitera, one of Malta's most popular destinations for those students who love nature as well as outdoor and sea-based activities. "St Paul's Bay is located in a green area to the north of the island, away from overcrowded cities," she comments. "It is an absolute paradise for water sports, horse riding, nature walks, rock climbing, trekking [and] scuba diving."
Another good option for those seeking the pleasures of the outdoors is Malta's sister island, Gozo, located 25 minutes by ferry from its north-west coast. "Students choose Gozo, as opposed to Malta, because they want to experience typical, uncommercialised island life," says Rebecca Brincat, of Gozo-based language school, BELS. "It is an ideal place to take a break from the hectic world of today." It is also a great choice if you want to experience diving. At BELS, English plus diving is the most popular combination course. "Our school works with a very professional PADI-recognised diving school," reports Brincat, "and learners enjoy what Gozo has to offer both above and below water."
Because the sea is always close at hand in Malta, many schools organise boat trips for students. The most popular activity for teenage students at GISOE is a beach barbecue on the nearby island of Comino. "We head to the famous Blue Lagoon by speed boat. We then spend the day on the beach/boat until the evening, when we have a barbecue, followed by a party on the beach," recounts Meadley.
Many language schools are located in Sliema, Malta's second town after Valletta and main tourist resort. This town has plenty to offer, according to Louiseanne Mercieca, whose school, English Language Academy, is situated at its heart. The town's attractions include various restaurants, cafés and bars, numerous shopping outlets, over two kilometres of seafront and many beaches and beach lidos, as Lisa Audino from Linguatime School of English highlights.
Designated a Unesco World Heritage City, Malta's capital, Valletta, is a monument to the island's history, including 160 years of British rule. It is also a good starting point for exploring the other historic sites of the island. At NSTS English Language Institute, conveniently located on the outskirts of the city, "all activities exploit Malta's incredibly vast heritage and cultural affluence," says spokesperson, Francis Stivala. "Students are taken back thousands of years in time, to discover the first free-standing Bronze Age temples in the world. They explore medieval fortified cities, baroque palaces and churches." They also have the chance to participate in week-long activity modules, among which is Christianity and the Knights Crusaders "a walk through the historical battlefields, cities and churches that characterise Malta's last 2,000 years".
Food is another highlight of the Maltese experience, with eateries to suit all pockets. Cuisine is predominantly in Mediterranean style, with many local specialities, including bragioli (beef olives), timpana (baked macaroni in pastry with mincemeat), qaqocc (stuffed globe artichokes) and gbenja (small cheeses made from goat's milk), which are associated particularly with Gozo. Conti adds that several excellent beers are produced locally, the most popular being Hop Leaf and Cisk lager. "Local wines, such as Marsovin, Delicata and Meridiana, are also very good and inexpensive," she notes.
Malta is proud of the high standard of its English language teaching. Add to this the friendly, outgoing nature of the Maltese people, and, as Conti points out, communicating in everyday English becomes easy and enjoyable. "Being able to understand and being understood gives students [an] immediate successful result, which boosts their confidence," she states.
In fact, the friendly reception received by students may be Malta's biggest plus-point. Aquilina certainly believes so. "If one had to generalise," he ventures, "I would say that the highlight of [a stay in Malta] is the friendships that are forged, with both Maltese and other students, in a magical atmosphere of warmth and friendliness that only the Mediterranean can offer."
Yana Seropyan, STB Tours, Moscow, Russia
"Most Russians choose Malta in order to combine English studies with a Mediterranean holiday. Also, Malta is less expensive than other [English language destinations]. The hospitable and talkative Maltese are a big advantage when one wants to practise English. Our clients fall in love with the relaxed and easy-going lifestyle in Malta. Younger students love the nightlife… Lots of people admire the Maltese food, the variety of the restaurants and, most of all, the fresh Mediterranean fish and sea food."
Martin Martschnig, Carpe Diem Sprachreisen, Austria
"The quality of teaching in our [partner] schools is excellent, and the student population is getting more international from year to year. Malta is our absolute number-one for junior courses. The mix of language and watersports attracts lots of teenagers."
Jan Pina, GTS International, Czech Republic
"Our clients like most the relaxed atmosphere, friendly people, architecture, historic sites, Maltese cuisine and the exotic touch the islands have, as there can be traced an influence of all leading European, African and Arabic cultures throughout the centuries. They also very much enjoy the seaside centres and sporting leisure-time activities. Many of our clients tend to return to Malta [after their first visit], be it for another language course or simply for a family holiday."
Helene Stadlbauer, Yes Tours, Austria
"Students mostly comment on their host families (most students have a great time at their host families, as in Malta [they] seem to be particularly open-minded); the great excursions they have; and the perfect combination of English language learning in a Mediterranean setting."