You want to learn English in Europe, but the UK is too expensive. Maybe where you learn English doesn't matter too much, but you want to learn English somewhere warm. Or, you want to study somewhere off the beaten path (meaning, you want to learn English in a place that not many people travel to). If this is you, you should learn English in Malta.
Malta, a group of three tiny islands east of Italy, is the only country in Europe that has English as an official language outside of the UK. As such, it’s full of English language schools and has become a hub for students to learn English — especially during the summer.
With a large variety of English schools to choose from (considering its size), a warm Mediterranean climate, and a low cost of living, Malta is the perfect destination for students who want to learn English in a warm, unique, and affordable location.
In Malta, there are essentially two ways to study English. If you're still in university, you could direct enroll or study abroad via Erasmus at the University of Malta. Otherwise, there's a huge variety of private language schools to choose from.
A note on language: English and Maltese are the two official languages of Malta. Some older generations will speak Italian, but you're less likely to hear it. Most Maltese are bilingual and -- though it may be fun -- it's not necessary to know Maltese when living in Malta. Also, the University of Malta's official language of instruction is English, but some classes will lapse into Maltese. It's OK to remind your professor that you don't speak Maltese if this happens!
Private Language Schools
The majority of the language schools in Malta are clustered in Sliema and St. Julien's -- two modern, lively, coastal towns about a 40 minute bus ride outside of the capitol, Valletta. Though not ideal for lounging on the beach, they are both known as being a hub for Maltese nightlife, and considering the size of Malta, it never takes too long to get anywhere.
Private language schools are the best bet for students who want to study abroad during the summer -- also Malta's peak tourist season -- or short term. Most will be able to set you up with a homestay as well, if that's something you're interested in.
University of Malta
There is one university in Malta, the University of Malta. Students can directly enroll at the university or study abroad via Erasmus for a semester or full academic year.
Note that direct enrollment means you will be taking courses in English and should already have a good command of English before selecting this option.
Cultural Immersion / Extracurricular Activities
Don't be fooled by Malta's placement in the middle of the Mediterranean -- though it's surrounded by water, it's not full of warm, sandy beaches. In fact, most of the coast is craggily and better for rock climbing than swimming -- though there are a few beaches where you can sunbathe and swim.
Malta is predominantly Roman Catholic (to quote one professor of mine at the University of Malta "we're more Catholic than the Pope!"), and is full of archeological ruins to explore.
Throughout the year, each of Malta's cities has its own patron saint festival known as Festas, and is an important part of traditional Maltese culture. Especially beautiful is Birgufest, where one of Malta's oldest and most historic cities is illuminated by candle light for one evening.
Like its Italian neighbor, Malta also has lively Mardi Gras celebrations. If you're there during that time, it's worth it to trek out to Gozo for the festivities.
At any time of the year, explore the old cavernous wine bars of Valletta, go for drinks by the harbor, or catch a movie at the Embassy Complex.
One of the most traditional foods in Malta is rabbit, and you'll find it commonly listed on the menu at restaurants. Also be sure to try Pastizz, a (cheap) deep fried snack filled with peas or cheese, and Ftira sandwiches.
Although Valletta is the capitol of Malta, it's not the most convenient place to look for a language school or live if you're studying English -- this is for both English learners at the University of Malta or at a private language school. It's also a little more expensive than other neighborhoods and sleepy on the weekends and evenings.
The majority of private language centers are clustered in Sliema and St. Julian -- across the bay from Valletta (and, some of them have some great views of the old, historic city). It's about a 30-45 minute bus ride from Valetta to these locations. However, these locations are closer to nightlife, cafes, restaurants, and a better spot for day trips to the beach or Gozo.
The University of Malta, is a little further inland in Msida; about a 30 minute bus ride from Valletta and a 10-15 minute walk from the oceanfront.
Malta is the main island of the trio and your best bet for finding a language school. Gozo, the second most populated island (but seriously, so small that you can stand directly in the center of Gozo, spin around, and see the entire periphery) doesn't have many opportunities. It does, however, make a great day or weekend trip and is easily accessible by a short ferry ride.
Where to Live
Plan to spend about 500 euros / month on rent in Malta -- you can find cheaper, and you can find more expensive, but 500 is a good average.
Note that Paceville, a neighborhood within St. Julians, is a hub for nightclubs and quite noisy at night and on the weekends. Try to find an apartment further away if this is a problem for you.
For University of Malta students, you could search for apartments in Msida or Gzira (another nearby neighborhood) or opt to stay at the University Residence in not-so-neaby Lija -- the only student housing on the island.
Also note that the University Residence almost exclusively hosts foreign students, since most local Maltese students tend to continue living at home while studying at university. The one exception is students from Gozo, who will tend to rent out apartments near the university for Monday - Friday, then return home for the weekends.
Finally, Malta is a small island, and you could drive just about anywhere in an hour or less, but busses stop running early (around 8pm).
However, the University Residence runs a free shuttle to and from Paceville on the weekends, and you can get a cheap taxi ride home from Paceville by going to the taxi depot and getting a "collective taxi" with other people going in the same direction. It's a common practice and totally safe.
Planning Your Trip
Health and Safety
In general, Malta is an incredibly safe country -- probably the safest country I've ever been to. And while the general cuisine is a little carb heavy, you can find fresh produce being sold by local farmers at small curbside trucks.
You should, however, budget for bottled water since tap water in Malta is too salty to safely drink.
Students of all ages and English levels can learn English in Malta. During the summer, language schools in Malta will even open their doors to high school students (usually from other parts of Europe).
Again, for studying at the University of Malta, you should have a good grasp of English before enrolling.
Since Malta is a part of the EU, students from the EU and Schengen countries do not need a visa to study abroad there. Students from other countries will have to get a student visa if they're staying for more than 90 days.
Note that you can get a visa once you're in Malta, but the customs office has very brief hours (usually about 2 - 3 hours per day) and you will need a chest X-ray if you're coming from outside of Europe. Be prepared to start applying for your student visa in advance, and get there as soon as the office opens.
If you are still in high school or college, you should check with your school or program about scholarships (Erasmus students especially). Otherwise, cost of living is pretty cheap in Malta, and honestly one of the most attractive reasons for studying English here over England or the U.S.
You could expect to pay around 500 euros / month in rent (I paid 200 euros / month -- it's possible to find cheaper). Bus rides are around 1 euro, and coffee is just a little more than that. A bottle of wine will cost you around 2 - 5 euros (and is almost always cheaper than beer -- learn to love it.)