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September 2005 issue

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Malta's magic

With great beaches, fantastic year-round weather, welcoming people and plenty of wonderfully preserved historic sites, Malta quickly weaves its magic on visitors, as Gillian Evans finds out.

Being a popular Mediterranean tourist destination, Malta is brimming over with attractions for language travellers wanting to learn English. Julian Cassar Torregiani at AM Language Studio in Sliema underlines, Students are normally surprised by the sheer amount of different things that one can do here.

Emma McEwen at EC Malta in St Julians agrees, saying, Malta has an amazing mix of an 'outside living' lifestyle, culture, architecture, climate and history. She adds, Students love Malta's fantastic climate and vibrant nightlife and restaurants.

The rugged northern part of the island of Malta is home to the largest beach and holiday resorts, such as Bugibba, Qawra and St Paul's Bay, and boasts Malta's largest sandy beach at Mellieha. It is also where a concentration of English language schools are located, particularly in Sliema, the main commercial and tourist hub of the island. Boasting shops, bars, nightclubs and hotels, [Sliema] has all the necessary services that any visitor to the island might need, says Cassar Torregiani. It is also a good base from which to explore the rest of the island, as Lorinda Theuma at Inlingua School of Languages in Sliema points out. The buses from Sliema are very regular and only minutes away from the school, she says. Students can find a bus to go anywhere on the island.

For a different experience of Maltese life there is the resort town of St Julians. Traditional colourful fishing boats, called luzus, are still harboured here and fishermen dry their nets in the sun, says McEwen. Whilst being sedentary during the day, the area becomes alive at night with bars and nightclubs. St Julians has everything: shops, banks, Internet cafés, a cinema complex, a sandy beach, a bowling alley, an Imax theatre [as well as] clubs and bars.

For an ultimately peaceful location, Gozo is ideal, but for those wanting the best of both worlds, there are other options. Clubclass English Language School is situated in Swieqi, within walking distance of St Julians, George's Bay and Paceville. Students like our location because it is quiet and safe yet very close to where everything is happening, states Joe Aquilina at the school.

Malta's pleasant climate means that, whatever time of year students visit, they can undertake a wide variety of activities. In summer, students make use of the various beaches along with famous summer hotspots such as the Blue Lagoon, states David Meadley at Gateway International School of English in San Gwann, whilst in winter, the weather is more suited to visiting the cultural sites, such as Valletta, Mdina, the temples and so on.

It is Malta's rich history that is most surprising to students, according to McEwen. Our students are always amazed by the richness and diversity of the history of Malta, she says. Malta has been shaped by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Knights of St John and the English. Listing just a handful of Malta's historic sites, McEwen mentions the mosaics of a Roman Villa; the ancient temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, dating from 3,600 BC; the Hypogeum in Paola, which consists of a 4,400-year-old underground network of caves, tunnels and rooms; and Malta's capital Valletta, a beautifully preserved 16th-century walled city and World Heritage Site.

School activity programmes include visits to Malta's cultural sites, as well as an endless list of both exhilarating and relaxing activities, from boat trips around the islands to diving, talent shows and five-aside football matches. Cassar Torregiani says, when it comes to activities in Malta, the sky's the limit!. Schools also offer a range of English plus programmes that make the most of their environment. For example, AM Language Studio offers English plus sailing or scuba diving. Subscribers to these courses attend language lessons in the mornings and then spend the afternoons obtaining their sailing or scuba diving international accreditation, explains Cassar Torregiani.

Malta has always been attractive to young adult students, wishing to combine their English language stay with a Mediterranean holiday, but the country is increasingly becoming popular with older students with job-related learning goals. AM Language Studio offers medical English and legal English courses, and is also a licensed examination centre for the testing of legal English skills. At the English Language Academy (ELA) in Sliema, Louiseanne Mercieca says they organise excursions for business groups to, for example, visit a factory, dry docks, tourism establishment, banking museum and newspaper press.

As well as various activities organised by schools themselves – at EC Malta, this includes volunteer work at the YMCA and RSPCA, and salsa dancing lessons at the local Latino bar – Malta offers a whole calendar of annual events, many of which are also included in the schools' list of excursions. Mercieca reports that they recently arranged a boat trip to the annual Fireworks Festival, held in Valletta's Grand Harbour in April. And the many village fiestas held between May and September are unmissable. These week-long events are held to celebrate the parish patron saint, and involve plenty of brass band music and festivities in the streets, culminating in an impressive firework display.

Other annual events include Carnival, characterised by colourful street processions, a Jazz festival and a Mediterranean food festival. With plenty of fresh seafood and a wide range of locally produced fruit and vegetables, Malta's cuisine offers a fresh and tasty menu. The strongest influence on Maltese cuisine is Sicilian, rustic Mediterranean cooking with wonderful pasta, bread, vegetables, fruit, tomatoes and fresh fish, relates McEwen. Specialities include Hobz bis-zeit, chopped Maltese tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs and olive oil on fresh Maltese bread; Timpana, baked macaroni in a pastry case; and Bigilla, a spicy dip made from broad beans.

Eating and drinking at Malta's bars and restaurants is also a good way to meet the locals, who have a reputation for being friendly. The Maltese have always been known for their hospitality and kindness, elaborates Meadley.


Agent viewpoint

Clients choose Malta for different reasons. It is close [to Italy], it's safe, inexpensive and gives you the chance to combine both studies and a vacation. We have lots of families travelling together to Malta with maybe just one or two [family] members following a language course. The most popular locations [among our clients] are St Julians and Sliema because of their nightlife and choice of schools and accommodation. This year we are sending junior students to Qwara.
Cristina Majocchi, Viva Srl, Italy

For students going [to Malta] in the low season, [advantages include] off-season prices and fewer students in the classes. The climate is mild during the winter, so students can explore the islands' scenery and great architecture without crowds of tourists. Most people do not realise that such a small Island [has] a great wealth of historic traditions, a wide choice of English courses and well organised schools that offer superb social and cultural activities, such as golf, bowling, sailing, diving and windsurfing.
Pavla Gultova, Alfa Agency, Czech Republic

There are two basic features, which in my opinion make Malta a perfect place to study English. Number one is of course the beautiful island itself. All the students who choose to go there in spring, summer or early autumn can be sure that they will have perfect weather. Number two is of a financial nature: Malta is about 20 per cent cheaper than other English-speaking countries, and there are many cheap charter flights from Poland to Malta in the peak season. People in Poland don't know much about Malta and its inhabitants. Once they get there they are surprised by the cosmopolitan atmosphere of this tiny island, the beautiful surroundings and the friendliness and hospitality of the Maltese.
Marek Saferna, NSJO Multimed, Poland

Going to Malta has several advantages: the weather is really perfect! The island benefits from sunshine, a warm-to-hot climate and the fact that it´s an island with all the possibilities the sea offers. It is only two-to-three hours away from Germany in comparison with other sunny countries, such as the USA, South Africa, Australia, etc.
Jaana Rüppel, Carpe Diem, Germany

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