Your Belgium Language Primer
When it comes to Belgium language, we agree with British author Samuel Johnson who said that "languages are the pedigrees of nations." And if that's the case, with three official languages, Belgium comes well-pedigreed.
The Languages of Belgium
Almost 60 percent of Belgians speak Flemish (nearly identical to Dutch) and the official language of the Flemish Community called, 'Flanders'.
Some 40 percent of Belgians speak French, the official language of the Brussels Capital region as well as the French community called 'Wallonia'.
Less than one percent of Belgians speak German. The 71,000 Belgians who speak German live on the eastern edge of the country near Germany; an area annexed after the World Wars.
Many Belgians speak more than one language. In fact, a survey taken by the Université Catholique de Louvain in 2006, shows that 59% of the Flemish speak French and 53% speak English. The Belgian french-speakers, however, are less apt to learn a new language. Only 19% of the Walloons speak Flemish while just 17% speak English.
As internationals living in Belgium for nine years, we've noticed first-hand that the Flemish are quite well-versed in both French and English. At IKEA (a popular Swedish home furnishings store), most of the employees are Flemish because of their language abilities.
Because Brussels is the headquarters of the European Union, many Europeans and other internationals live in the Brussels region and speak English as a common language. In fact, it's not hard to find waiters, counter clerks and others who can give directions, answer questions and offer helpful information in English.
Of course there are many foreign-born immigrants and naturalized citizens who also speak their native tongue, such as Arabic, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish; and then must learn at least one Belgium language.
Impress the locals
If you're planning a trip to Brussels, you should be able to navigate easily with English. But if you'd like to impress the locals and expand your horizons, pick up a french and/or dutch dictionary and language-learning cds at your local bookstore.
The locals love it when we try to speak their language. It warms their hearts and makes the friendly Belgians even friendlier.
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