If you are looking for professional translation services, you would be hard-pressed to find an interpreter who can speak the Belgian language. The reason for this is that the national language of Belgium is a group of three languages. It is not a unique situation. Switzerland also has three official languages (Italian, French, and German), and the small Asian nation of Macao uses Portuguese as one of its official languages.
And, if you wonder what language do people in Belgium speak, the ethnically diverse population uses both their native and the official languages – reaching the impressive number of seven languages spoken all over the country. In this article, we will cover all the important topics you need to know, from the main language of Belgium, to each native language of various ethnic groups.
What Is the Official Language of Belgium?
The primary and official language of Belgium is not one but three: German, French, and a version of Dutch called Flemish. Belgians speak Dutch with a different accent, and there are also variations in words and phrases.
The explanation for the fact that there is more than one main language of Belgium comes from its specific geographic location. The territory of Belgium covers the border between Germanic language countries in the north and Romance language countries in the south. The distribution of speakers of French and Flemish (the main two languages of Belgium) reflects this situation: Belgians speak Flemish in the north and French in the south.
What Language Do They Speak in Belgium When Dealing With the Authorities?
Although it has less than 12 million people, Belgium is a key country in Europe. Its capital, Brussels, is home to the European Parliament and the European Council, the most important governing bodies of the European Union. As such, Brussels is a sort of unofficial capital of Europe, giving the country great importance in politics, business, and trade.
Thus, if you want to do business in this country, you are rightly entitled to know: what languages are spoken in Belgium and which ones are official?
Flemish is a version of Dutch, and the main language Belgians speak (around 60% of the population). This national language is called Belgian-Dutch in Brussels, but everyone calls it Flemish. While there are differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, a Dutch speaker from the Netherlands will understand the version of this main language of Belgium with ease.
The area where Flemish is prevalent is called Flanders (it is how the Belgium variant of the language got its name) in the country’s north.
What do they speak in the southern part of Belgium? Is Belgium French the same as the national language of France? The answer is no. The Wallonia region, where you will find French speakers, has developed its own dialect and vocabulary over the centuries.
However, any speaker and translator of French can easily understand Belgian French.
The least used official Belgian language is German – just 1% of the population claims it as their native language. This can be easily explained by the fact that the respective territory was transferred to Belgium at the end of World War I.
As a result, the population still speaks Hochdeutsch – the formal version of the language taught in German schools.
Other Languages Spoken by Various Ethnic Groups
As you may have observed, Belgium is an ethnically diverse country. And this is reflected by other unofficial languages that Belgians speak. These are:
No area of Belgium has native English speakers, but many Belgians speak it fluently. It is probably the third most popular language, after Flemish and French. This can also be explained by the fact that English remains an official language of the European Union, even after the United Kingdom decided to leave the union.
Moreover, the population is petitioning the government to make English an official language of Belgium, especially Brussels residents. They believe that English could bridge the differences between speakers of other official languages, as well as improve foreign commercial relations.
Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe, but with a powerful local influence. As such, around 0.5% of Belgians speak Luxembourgish, which is a Germanic language with a strong influence from French.
This is an outdated version of French, spoken especially by older generations in the Wallonia area. The younger generations are not keen on picking up this dialect, as a result, this Belgian language has a dwindling number of speakers.
It may come as a surprise, but the Belgium population that speaks Yiddish is the largest in Europe. Some 30,000 people are of Jewish descent and use Yiddish as the language they speak at home, although they know one of the official languages. However, as many of them wish to maintain their heritage, they have their separate schools where only Yiddish is spoken and taught.
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