Belgium has three official languages – English, Dutch, and French. English, however, is not the primary language they speak in the country. But even if it is not, a large percentage of the population speaks English. As such, you can speak the language in many situations all over Belgium.
A large number of Flemish and French speakers can speak and understand a second language. Others can even do so with a third language.
When in Belgium, the chance you will meet somebody who does not speak English is very low. This is why, when one can only communicate in the English language, there is no need to worry.
Many Flemish individuals speak French and another language. It could be French and Dutch, or it can also be French and English. There is a percentage of Flemish that speaks German. The number, however, is not that significant.
The German language is not as widely spread in the country as it used to.
A lot of the citizens of Belgium learn another language as part of their educational system. Dutch is wide -spoken in the country. The same is true when it comes to the French language.
Aside from these being their official languages, You can also learn French in school. Students aged ten usually start learning how to speak the French language. And when a student reaches the age of 14, he then starts learning how to speak the English language.
After English, German and Spanish is/are then taught.
Aside from their educational system that includes languages, people also learn through interaction. Belgium is a nation frequented by tourists. As such, most of its citizens get to interact with people that speak the English language.
Aside from interactions with English-language speakers, they would learn English from the media. Foreign films and TV series are also not dubbed. They usually come with subtitles.
Because of this exposure, one would be more confident in speaking English in Belgium. In fact, one can speak English anywhere in the country. There will be no challenge of being misunderstood.
One should note, however, that the other official languages are still widely spoken. And while they can communicate in English, it is useful to learn the other languages they speak.
One should also find that certain regions speak a certain language more than the other. As such, it is highly advised that one learns the language of that specific area.
Belgium and its Languages
When in Belgium, one has the liberty to speak any language they want. There is the existence of language freedom. This is something that is in the country’s Constitution.
In such a Constitution, it states that the citizens of Belgium can decide which language to speak. This includes the languages spoken in the household. This also includes the language to use when communicating with friends or with the media.
Having the liberty to language also applies to languages spoken in various fields. This includes the cultural, commercial, economic, and religious fields.
As mentioned earlier, Belgium has three official languages. These are Dutch, French, and German. By this time, we already know that some languages are widely spoken in some areas more than others.
As such, one region may have a different prevailing language than the other. We already know, the country has only three official languages. Despite this, there are actually four language areas.
There is the Dutch language area. Belgium also has the French language area and lingual Brussels-Capital area. And another area is the German language area. This area gives us nine municipalities in the eastern part of the country.
Now, it is pretty evident that there is a subdivision of regions based on language. When one is in the area, would one need to learn the language of that specific region? The answer is no. Remember, Belgium has language freedom. Anyone can speak any language no matter where he is in the country.
The use of the dominant language can only be in a few limited instances. One such instance is when in contact with authorities. Aside from that, there seems to be no other primary reason. One would have to use any language he wants to. As long as people understand, why not?
Belgium, its Languages, and its People
How large is Belgium’s population that speaks a specific language?
The country has a population that speaks different languages. It has 10,800,000 inhabitants. Out of this number, about 6.25 million live in the Flemish Region. This is the Dutch language area.
About 3.5 of the population is in the Walloon Region that speaks the French language (and also German). And the remaining 1 million or so citizens belong to the Brussels-Capital Region. These are those that are all bilinguals.
One would not be able to determine the exact number of Dutch speakers in the country. For example, the Walloon Region has individuals that speak both. Certain people who live in this region that speak Dutch as well as French.
The Brussels-Capital area also has French speakers. It also has Dutch speakers. Aside from these two languages, the English language is also prevalent in this region.
What percentage of Belgium speaks English?
As you already know, Belgium has three official languages. English is one of them. Out of the total population of the country, about 38% of them can speak English fluently. The remaining population can speak English at different fluency levels.
Aside from these three languages, German is also spoken in the country. There are also non-official and minority languages and dialects. These are not as widely spoken in Belgium as the official languages.
Dutch tops the list out of the many official and non-official languages of Belgium. It is widely-spoken in the Flemish communities as well as in the Flemish regions.
The other widely-spoken language aside from Dutch is French. His is especially true in the Brussels-Capital Region.
Dutch has main dialects. These are the Brabantian, West Flemish, East Flemish, and Limburgish dialects. These dialects are being used, especially along the border in the Netherlands. The West Flemish dialect is also popular in the French Flanders Region.
Just like the English language, Flemish dialects have French influences. Aside from this, it also has other influences from other cultural exchanges. These dialects have absorbed more influences than did the Dutch.
Because of this, Flemish dialects are not as understandable for Dutch speakers. This happens much, especially to the Dutch outside Flanders. And there is a term for these words – belgicisms. These are words that are unique to Belgian Dutch.
Initially, the Brabantial dialect of Brussels had strong French influences. It is now the dialect in use by a minority in the Capital region.
- Belgian French
We know Dutch is the language most in use in Belgium. The second language widely-spoken is French. About one-third of the Belgian population speaks French.
It is the official language, obviously, of the French community. Unlike the Flemish community, the French community is a political entity. It is also the language in use in the Wallonia community.
What is interesting is that the Wallonia community is supposedly a German-speaking community. But French is also a language in use in this area.
The Brussels-Capital region also uses French as a language. In this part of Belgium, almost all its citizens speak French. French in this area can either be their primary or their second language.
When in Belgium, one would also find that many Flemish individuals speak French. This, they speak as a second language.
If you are wondering, Belgian French is somehow similar to the Parisian French. There may be a bit of a difference when it comes to vocabulary and pronunciation. But note that the Belgian and Parisian French speakers easily understand each other. This is despite the differences.
- The German Language in Belgium
The German language is also one of those that are in use in Belgium. About 1% of the citizens of this country speak the language. To sum it all up, this would equate to about 77,000 or so individuals. Most of them are in an area that the German Empire surrendered after WWI.
By the year 1940, the area was again under German rule for the whole duration of World War II. After the war, it was also under Belgian rule.
What is the difference between Flemish and Dutch?
The Dutch language that they use in the Netherlands has more English influences. The strong influence with the Dutch they use in the Flemish region is French. Also, the Flemish dialect sounds a bit softer. This is when you compare it with the Dutch language in the Netherlands.
The debate continues up to this very day. Some contend that the Dutch language and the Flemish dialects are the same. The belief is that the difference is in the location where they use the language.
In summary, a Dutch language and a Flemish dialect speaker would be able to understand each other. But like the British and the American English speakers, there would be differences.
One of the significant differences is in its vocabulary. Intonation between the Dutch language and Flemish dialect differs as well. It is the pronunciation that is the most obvious difference of all.
But for somebody without any exposure to these two, the differences are not obvious. This is because the differences basically lie in their influences. The Dutch language has more of an English influence, while French is the influence of Fleming.
As you already know by now, the Flemish dialect sounds a bit softer than the Dutch language. This is for the reason that the Dutch language uses stronger tones. The most obvious of these tones is the use of the letter G.
In the northern parts of the Netherlands, the letter G has a guttural sound. In the Flemish regions, however, one would hear the ch pronunciation. This sounds softer with more of a hissing sound.
One example of this is the word national. In the Netherlands, people read this as “natzional.” In the Flanders region, they read this word as “nasional.” See the difference?
This may be a slight difference. But when one has the exposure and the knowledge of these two languages, one would be able to identify.
The Dutch language is a language the Flanders would be able to understand. Despite this, however, there would still be differences in their vocabulary. There are a few words in the Netherlands that they do not use in the Flemish dialect.
For example, an ATM in Flanders is “bankcontact.” In the Netherlands, the word that one should use when asking for an ATM should be “pinautomaat.” Aside from these differences, some have different meanings.
Certain words in the Dutch language mean differently in Flemish. One such example is the word “schoon.” When using this word in the Flanders region, this refers to the beauty of somebody or something.
When in the Netherlands, the same word refers to something clean.
Another example is the word “kleedje.” This word in Flanders refers to a dress. When in the Netherlands, the same word talks about a piece of clothing or textile. This would refer to a table cloth, for example. It can also be a rug or any piece of textile.
These may sound like minor differences. However, when in formal or business settings, this could make a lot of difference.
If businesses target Dutch speakers, they should be able to get things right. As some terms differ, the message they are sending across would be different.
English as the Only Language
But when one only speaks English, one should never worry about traveling to Belgium.
The rest of the country can speak the English language. However, some may be more fluent than others. But almost all of the population can convey their message across in the English language.
And so if you can only speak English and nothing else, fret not. Belgium is waiting.