March has just begun, it’s starting to warm up and nature is ready to flourish anew. Let’s welcome spring with a new episode of “Multilingual countries“! We already hinted at it in the last episode: today we’ll virtually travel to the country that’s home to numerous institutions of the European Union. That’s right, today we’re going to discuss Belgium and its languages.


The Belgian authorities officially recognise three languages: Dutch, French and German.

The country’s multilingual nature is the result of all the historical, cultural and linguistic influences which have affected it from the times of the Roman Empire to the present day. We obviously won’t retrace the entire linguistic history of the country, instead focusing mainly on the current situation. However, it must be remembered that over the years, the various factions have not failed to claim their right to express themselves in their traditional language.  

I’m mainly talking about the Flemish community in Flanders and the Walloon community in Wallonia, respectively in the north and south of the country.


Dutch is the official language in northern Belgium, often referred to as Netherlandish or Flemish to distinguish it from the Dutch spoken in Holland, with slight geographic variations. Nevertheless, at the official and literary level the two spoken languages do not have substantial differences; in fact, the term Dutch literature is increasingly used to refer to books written in this language, whether in Belgium or in Holland.

Regardless of whether it’s called Dutch or Flemish, this is the most widely spoken language in the federal state of Belgium, spoken by about 60% of the population.


French is the official language in the southern part of the country. Also in this case it is standard French with small geographic variations, for example the use of “septante” in Belgium and “soixante-dix” in France.

French is spoken by 40% of the Belgian population, which makes this language the second linguistic system in the country.


Both the cultural and linguistic meeting of these two communities is centred in the region called Brussels-Capital. Dutch and French are the official languages here and they coexist well, from the city streets to the government offices, from those of the EU to the shops in the city centre.

Brussels is therefore the bilingual capital of a multilingual state, although it is geographically located in the Flemish (Dutch language) region. The current use of French, also by the institutions, is likely attributable to the European character of the city, considered by many to be the capital of the EU.

To get an idea of how present the European Union is in the Belgian capital, take a look at visit.brussels.


Of the three different language communities in Belgium, the German-speaking one is the least extensive. Not only in terms of speakers, as German is spoken by about 70,000 people nationwide (the country having about 11,300,000 citizens), but also geographically.

In fact, German is an official language in only nine municipalities, all belonging to the cantons of Eupen and Sankt Vith, which not surprisingly both border Germany.

See you next episode!

Stefano Gaffuri

English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider