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Mela, i speak maltese!

It’s surely not the easiest language to speak, but knowing some Maltese phrases will certainly make your stay in Malta even more interesting

Words by Yendrick Cioffi

Merħba! Welcome to Malta! You have probably already observed the beauty of this country: its bewitching beaches, its magnificent churches, its alluring countryside and the warm welcome that you likely received as soon as you set foot on this tiny island.

Communication will be the least of your problems in Malta. Even though our language is Semitic (due to the Arab invasion), the British colonisation, the influence from nearby Italy and the strong position that the Church held in Malta, all left their mark. Together with Maltese, our national language, English is also our official language. If you’re Italian, you will also be able to understand some loanwords, such as ‘bonġu’ (buongiorno).

This, if one had to give a very simple description of the Maltese language, it is a: Semitic language, with a twist of English and Italian. So, let’s get to the Maltese!

Imagine yourself going down for breakfast tomorrow morning and greeting the waiter with a cheerful ‘bonġu’ (bon-jew), which means ‘good morning’. It will definitely bring a look of surprise to their faces. 

‘Mela’, you probably already heard someone uttering ‘mela.’ Rest assured that you will hear this word umpteen times during your stay.

‘Mela’ has so many meanings that it is impossible for someone not to use the word in the right context. It is used when someone starts explaining something. It is also the equivalent of ‘whatever; or ‘okay’ and may also mean ‘yes’ or ‘yes, really’. So, do not hesitate to use it! 

When in Malta, you need to taste some of our traditional food. Have you heard of pastizzi? ‘Pastizzi’ (pas-tits-tsi) come in two varieties; pea cakes and cheese cakes. So pop in any ‘pastizzerija’ and ask for ‘tnejn piżelli’ (t-ney-n pi-ze-llee) or ‘tnejn irkotta’ (t-ney-n ir-kot-ta), meaning ‘two pea cakes’ and ‘two cheesecakes.’

You must also try our local beer! Go to the nearest bar and ask for a ‘pinta lager,’ (pinta lager), meaning a pint of beer. You will soon be asking for a second pint.

We haven’t talked about thanking all the people that you will meet and who will be more than willing to help you. ‘Grazzi’ (gra-tsee), is a simple word and you will not only be thanking the locals in their mother tongue, but you will be also showing them that you respect their distinct language and culture. Restaurants will not offer you great challenges either.

You will notice that most of the staff is foreign. If your waiter happens to be Maltese, and you need the bill, just ask: ‘il-kont jekk jogħġbok’ (il-kont yekkyo-jbok). By now you have understood that ‘jekk jogħġbok’ means ‘please.’

Malta also offers great nights out. Whether having a drink at a bar in Sliema, a cocktail at a lounge in St Julians or partying at Paceville, you will find some of the following Maltese phrases useful. Ordering a drink should be the least of your problems. You might find ‘Pinta lager,’ helpful again or you can go for ‘tnejn tequila.’

If you’re standing alone at a bar or at a club whilst your friend goes to the bathroom, don’t be surprised if a Maltese guy tries to make his way through! If someone offers you a drink, you can either accept (yes): ‘iva’ (ea-va) or refuse (no): ‘le’ (le).

Maybe you have nothing to lose, and you want to start a conversation. You can start by asking for the other’s name: ‘X’jismek?’ (sh-yee-smek?), and asking them how they are: ‘kif inti?’ (keef-in-tee?).

If on the contrary, you just want to get rid of them, reply with the typical excuse: ‘jien miżżewga’ (yee-in miz-zew-ja), meaning ‘I am married.’ It has been a long day! But after spending the day trying to pronounce Maltese, you might want to make a last effort and impress your family or friends by wishing them ‘il-lejl it-tajjeb’ (il-layl it tie-ebb), good night!

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