Languages of Belgium

Languages of Belgium

Languages of
country = Belgium

official = legend|#B0B000|Dutch (1st: ~60%, 2nd: ?)legend|#B00000|French (1st: ~40%, 2nd: ~48%)legend|#0000B0|German (1st: ~1%, 2nd: 27%)
main =
regional = " unofficial "

Walloon, Picard, Champenois, Lorrain, Yiddish
foreign = English (59%), Arabic, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, Italian
sign = Flemish Sign Language, Langue des signes de Belgique francophone
keyboard = Belgian AZERTY

source = [ ebs_243_en.pdf] (

The Kingdom of Belgium has three official languages, which are, in order from the greatest speaker population to the smallest, Dutch (in a Belgian context often colloquially called "Flemish"), French, and German. A number of non-official, minority languages are spoken as well.

Official languages


Close to 60% of the country's population speaks Dutch as the primary (Belgian) language.Footnote: Of the inhabitants of Belgium, roughly 59% belong to the Flemish Community, 40% to the French Community and 1% to the German-speaking Community, though these figures relating to official Belgian languages include unknown numbers of immigrants and their children speaking a foreign language as primary language, and of infra-Belgium regional migrants which may be assumed to largely balance one another for natively French and Dutch speakers.] It is the official language of the Flemish Community and the Flemish Region (merged to Flanders) and, along with French, an official language of the Brussels-Capital Region. Though the Dutch language "officially" spoken in Belgium is identical with the one spoken in the Netherlands, it is often colloquially called Flemish. The main Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium are Brabantian, West Flemish, East Flemish and Limburgish. Many of the sub-dialects, while they may resemble standard Dutch, eminate from history and daily life and can be quite distant from the standard language. Words which are unique to Belgian Dutch are called "belgicisms". The original Brabantian dialect of Brussels has been very heavily influenced by French, and in most cases replaced by it during the Frenchification of Brussels.


French is with 40% the second-most spoken primary (Belgian) language. It is the official language of the French Community (which, like the Flemish Community, is a political entity), the dominant language in Wallonia (having also a small German-speaking Community) as well as in the Brussels-Capital Region with roughly 95% of its inhabitants able to speak French either as primary language (50%) or as lingua franca (45%).cite journal
title=Belgium's new linguistic challenges
author=Van Parijs, Philippe, Professor of economic and social ethics at the UCLouvain, Visiting Professor at Harvard University and the KULeuven
journal=KVS Express (supplement to newspaper De Morgen) March–April 2007
pages=Article from [ original source (pdf 4.9 MB)] pages 34–36 republished by the Belgian Federal Government Service (ministry) of Economy — Directorate-general Statistics Belgium
format=pdf 0.7 MB
— The linguistic situation in Belgium (and in particular various estimations of the population speaking French and Dutch in Brussels) is discussed in detail.] cite journal
title=Van autochtoon naar allochtoon
quote="Meer dan de helft van de Brusselse bevolking is van vreemde afkomst. In 1961 was dat slechts 7 procent." (More than half of the Brussels' population is of foreign origin. In 1961 this was only 7 percent.)
journal=De Standaard (newspaper) online
] There are also many Flemish people that are able to speak French as a second language. Belgian French is in most respects identical to standard, Parisian French, but differs in some points of vocabulary, pronunciation, and semantics. "Ma vie en rose" and "Man Bites Dog" are important Belgian films in the French language.


German is the smallest official language in Belgium, spoken natively by less than 1% of the population, though the 71,000 person population of the German-speaking Community is almost 100% German-speaking. This area of Belgium was taken as part of the Treaty of Versailles with Imperial Germany following World War I, and Nazi Germany re-annexed them during their invasion of Belgium.


In 2006, the Université Catholique de Louvain, the country's largest French-speaking university, published a report with the introduction "(here translated)": "This issue of Regards économiques is devoted to the demand for knowledge of languages in Belgium and in its three regions (Brussels, Flanders, Wallonia). The surveys show that Flanders is clearly more multilingual, which is without doubt a well known fact, but the difference is considerable : whereas 59% and 53% of the Flemings know French or English respectively, only 19% and 17% of the Walloons know Dutch or English. The measures advocated by the Marshall Plan go towards the proper direction, but are without doubt very insufficient to fully overcome the lag." "(This particular 2006–2009 'Marshall Plan' was devised in 2004 and published in 2005 to uplift the Walloon economy. [cite journal
title=Le plan Marshall: cinq actions prioritaires pour l’avenir wallon (The Marshall plan: five prioritary actions for the Walloon future)
author= [ Bayenet, Benoît] , Professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, in 2004 Economical Advisor to the federal Vice Prime Minister & Justice Minister, and to the Walloon Region's Minister of Economy and Employment; Vandendorpe, Luc, "Direction Politique économique", Ministry of the Walloon Region
journal=OVER.WERK journal of Steunpunt WAV
] )" Within the report, professors in economics Ginsburgh and Weber further show that of the Brussels' residents, 95% declared they can speak French, 59% Dutch, and 41% know the non-local English. Economically significant for a further globalizing future, among people under the age of forty, in Flanders 59%, in Wallonia 10%, and in Brussels 28% can speak all three forementioned languages. In each region, Belgium's third official language, German, is notably less known than those. [cite journal
author=Ginsburgh, Victor, Université Catholique de Louvain; Weber, Shlomo, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Economic Studies of the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, USA, and having a seat in the expert panel of the IMF.
title=La dynamique des langues en Belgique
journal=Regards économiques, Publication préparée par les économistes de l'Université Catholique de Louvain
issue=Numéro 42
quote=Ce numéro de Regards économiques est consacré à la question des connaissances linguistiques en Belgique et dans ses trois régions (Bruxelles, Flandre, Wallonie). Les enquêtes montrent que la Flandre est bien plus multilingue, ce qui est sans doute un fait bien connu, mais la différence est considérable : alors que 60 % et 53 % des Flamands connaissent le français ou l'anglais respectivement, seulement 20 % et 17 % des Wallons connaissent le néerlandais ou l'anglais. Les mesures préconisées par le Plan Marshall vont dans la bonne direction, mais sont sans doute très insuffisantes pour combler le retard. ... 95 pour cent des Bruxellois déclarent parler le français, alors que ce pourcentage tombe à 59 pour cent pour le néerlandais. Quant à l’anglais, il est connu par une proportion importante de la population à Bruxelles (41 pour cent). ... Le syndrome d’H (...) frappe la Wallonie, où à peine 19 et 17 pour cent de la population parlent respectivement le néerlandais et l’anglais.
format=pdf 0.7 MB
(Summary:cite web
title=Slechts 19 procent van de Walen spreekt Nederlands
publisher=Nederlandse Taalunie
– The article shows the interest in the Ginsburg-Weber report, by the French-language Belgian newspaper Le Soir and the Algemeen Dagblad in the Netherlands)
] [cite web
title=Réformer sans tabous - Question 1: les langues — La connaissance des langues en Belgique: "Reactie"
quote=Hoewel in beide landsdelen de jongeren inderdaad meer talen kennen dan de ouderen, is de talenkloof tussen Vlaanderen en Wallonië toch gegroeid. Dit komt omdat de talenkennis in Vlaanderen sneller is toegenomen dan die in Wallonië. ... Het probleem aan Franstalige kant is dus groot en er is, verassend genoeg, niet echt een verbetering of oplossing in zicht. ... het is met de kennis van het Engels ongeveer even pover gesteld als met de kennis van het Nederlands. Tot daar dus de verschoning van de povere talenkennis aan Waalse zijde als een rationele individuele keuze in een markt met externe effecten. Het is merkwaardig dat de auteurs dit huizenhoge probleem met hun verklaringexpliciet toegeven, maar er bij het formuleren van beleidsadviezen dan toch maar van uit gaan dat hun model juist is. (Although in both parts of the country the young indeed know more languages than the elder, the languages chasm between Flanders and Wallonia has nevertheless grown. This is because the knowledge of languages in Flanders has increased faster than that in Wallonia. ... Thus the problem at the French-speaking side is large and there is, quite surprisingly, not really an improvement or solution in sight. ... the knowledge of English is in about as poor a state as the knowledge of Dutch. So far, about the excuse for the poor knowledge of languages on the Walloon side as a rational individual choice in a market with external effects. It is remarkable that the authors by their statement explicitly acknowledge this towering problem, but in formulating governance advices still assume their model to be correct.)
author=Schoors, Koen, Professor of Economics at Ghent University, the KULeuven and the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School.
publisher=Itinera Institute
– Reaction on the Ginsburgh-Weber report;cite web
title=Ib. "Reactions"
language=French translation

Non-official languages

Historically, several other languages have dominated parts of Belgium, particularly Wallonia, which have in recent years given way to French.


Walloon is the historical language of southern Belgium, and most of the areas where French is now spoken were Walloon-speaking until relatively recently. It is also the traditional national language of the Walloons. Though it has been recognized, like other "Indigenous languages" in Belgium, since 1990, it is mainly spoken by older people, though younger Walloons may claim some knowledge. It is mainly found in rural regions, and is used in theaters and literature, though not in schools.


Another historical language, Picard is mostly used in France, and was recognized by the government of the French Community in 1990.


Champenois was recognized in 1990, and is mainly spoken in Champagne, France, as well as Wallonia.


Like the other indigenous languages, Lorrain was recognized in 1990. It is mainly spoken in Gaume.


Yiddish is spoken by the 20,000 Orthodox Jews living in Antwerp. The community there is among the strongest in Europe, and one of the few places where Yiddish is still the dominant language in a Jewish community (others include Kiryas Joel, New York, and similar Orthodox neighborhoods in the United States, London, Paris, and Israel).

Other minority and foreign languages

Other languages spoken by foreign-born persons or Belgians of foreign ancestry include:
Arabic, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, and Italian.

ee also

*Language legislation in Belgium


*CIA WFB 2006

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