Since we’ve been in Malta we’ve had an endless stream of conversations around us which we don’t understand, but we started to hear words repeating a lot and started to educate ourselves. To preface this, almost everyone in Malta speaks English very well, sometimes they speak both languages natively, especially if you’re in the more tourist common areas like Sliema, St Julian’s, and Buggiba. But it’s always nice to meet people and show an interest in their culture, especially when you are in their country.
Maltese (properly called Malti) is a Semitic language, and a derivative of Siculo-Arabic. Because of the nature of the island and it’s many conquerors over time, the language is a mishmash of Italian, English and Arabic. And a fun fact is that it is the only Semitic language adopted into the EU thus far, and the only latin written Semitic language. One of the closest Arabic languages to it currently is Tunisian, Morrocan, and Algerian dialects of Arabic referred to as Maghrebi Arabic. So if you are coming from one of those nations you will find it a lot easier to pick up.
A lot of people think that just because most people in Malta speak English, and that not a lot of people speak Maltese (outside of Malta that is) that it is not worthwhile to learn. In my experience, whether you are a traveller visiting for only a few days or moving somewhere, you should put the effort to learn a bit of the native culture and that includes languages. So, to make sure you don’t have to dedicate a lot of time to the learning to at least get by, we’re going to help you out. Here are the basics of almost every conversation.
Bongu: Pronounced Bon-ju it sounds almost Italian when spoken. This means hello and is generally a nice greeting to conversation start.
Mela: This one took us some time, as we heard the Maltese dropping this into even English conversations and was as bizzare as the Irish prevelance to say craic instead of “What’s up”. But it’s basically used for any pause in conversation when you’re thinking of things, the way we would use ‘Umm’ or ‘like’. It is used absolutely everywhere, have a listen and you’ll hear it all over!
Kif Int : How are you? Usually follows directly after Bongu
Bonswa : Pronounced Bon-swah similar to Bon Soir in french, it means good evening or goodbye.
Grazzi : Thank you!
Grazzi ħafna: You’ll notice the tick above the H, this indicates the sound is similar to the Hebrew sound for H and is rather throaty. This is pronounced Grazzi Hah-f-nah. It means Thank you very much.
Skuzi : Pronounced similar to the Italian version, means Excuse Me.
Ajjut! : Pronounced Ayoot, means Help in English, could be useful if you are in distress.
There won’t be a lot of other things you may need to say in Maltese, but the last thing I can advise is that if you’re taking the bus and you hear it say “Il waqfa il-j-miss” It means “The next stop is” and then whatever it says after that is the stop name.
Maltese is a beautiful language full of fun little loan words and interesting mixes of culture. I can’t wait to learn even more.