8.9 Language

The vast majority of Maltese aged can speak sufficient English to do basic shopping and use essential services. However, the proportion that can speak and read or understand fluent English is small. "Many Maltese aged are not speakers of English and so are not catered for by existing services. There appear to be no homes/programs that cater for Maltese speaking members" (Hearst 1981, p 118). In the home, where they spend most of their time, they usually speak Maltese, and this hastens loss of the acquired second language. It is well known that with increasing age, the second language is lost earlier and to a greater event than the original language. It is therefore little wonder that the language assumes even greater importance as a language of communication in old age. Women are particularly vulnerable in this respect: they live longer and therefore form the larger proportion of any aged population, and particularly for Maltese aged, they would have lived a relatively home-bound life for the vast majority of time in Australia. The ability to express oneself freely, among friends and relatives, in one's one language of birth, remains one of the few pastimes in old age.

Source: Maurice N. Cauchi - Maltese Migrants in Australia, Malta 1990

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