Royal palace of Brussels, Belgium

What Language Do They Speak in Belgium?

In Blog by Rafael Morel

Small in size, Belgium showcases a remarkable confluence of languages in a close-knit space. This land of waffles, fries, chocolate, and beer is home to not one, not two, but three official languages.

There are several other languages spoken by immigrant communities in Belgium, as well as regional dialects that add color to its linguistic richness.

So let’s explore the babbling brook of Belgian tongues, from the official languages down to the local patois.

Official Languages in Belgium

Belgium has three official languages – Dutch, French, and German.

Flemish (Dutch) 

Flemish, a dialect of Dutch, is spoken by around 60% of Belgians, mainly in the northern region of Flanders. It differs slightly from standard Dutch and has some variations in vocabulary and pronunciation.

In other parts of the world, including some other parts of Belgium, people speak a different dialect of Dutch. Compared to basic Dutch, Flemish is affected by French influence more than English influence. This dramatically changes the sound of the dialect.


French is the mother tongue of around 40% of the population in Belgium. It’s the second most spoken language in the country after Dutch. The French-speaking population is concentrated primarily in southern Belgium, in the regions of Wallonia and Brussels.

While standard French is taught in schools and used in government in the regions, there are some differences between Belgian French and the French spoken in France. There are regional dialects and accents that give Belgian French its own unique flair.


German is primarily spoken in eastern Belgium, in the German-speaking Community also known as East Belgium (Ostbelgien). This is a small region in the east of the province of Liège in Wallonia, bordering Germany and Luxembourg.

It’s the primary language used in local schools, government, and media in municipalities like Eupen, Kelmis, and Sankt Vith. Road signs and menus are generally in this language first.

It’s worth noting that the German spoken is a Rhine Franconian dialect similar to varieties across the border. There are some uniquely local terms, and the dialect differs from standard German. But overall, mutual intelligibility remains high between Germans and the German speakers of Belgium.

What Language Do They Speak in Brussels?

Brussels is an interesting case when it comes to languages. Officially, it is a bilingual city where both French and Dutch are considered official languages. However, in reality, French is by far the dominant language spoken on a daily basis.

A huge percentage of the population uses French in their everyday interactions. This includes ordering coffee, talking to neighbors, reading signs, and so on.

Formally, Brussels has 19 municipalities. Of these, just 6 have an official Dutch status, while the rest are French-speaking. So when walking around Brussels and needing to speak with locals, French will almost always be your best bet.

Some estimates suggest only a small percentage of inhabitants in Brussels actually use Dutch in their daily lives. This includes native Dutch speakers as well as some who speak it as a second language.

Most locals can switch between French and Dutch when required, but French remains the predominant language of communication, business, and culture.

The city government operates bilingually, providing services and websites in both languages. But for the average visitor or resident, Brussels remains a largely and culturally Francophone city, despite its official bilingual status.


Belgium is home to several regional dialects of both Dutch and French. Within the Flemish region, there are dialects like Brabantian, East Flemish, West Flemish, Limburgish, and more.

Some of these are quite distinct from standard Dutch. For example, West Flemish pronunciation and vocabulary differ so much that other Dutch speakers may have trouble understanding it.

The French-speaking Wallonia region also has regional dialects, influenced by its proximity to France, Germany, and Luxembourg. These include Walloon, Picard, Champenois, and Lorrain.

The differences are mainly in accent and vocabulary. Speakers of standard French can generally understand these regional dialects, but may notice the accents and some different words.

This diversity of dialects reflects Belgium’s unique culture and history, as various language influences mixed in this region over time. While standard French and Dutch are used in education, media, and formal settings, local dialects still thrive in informal daily life.

Language Politics

Belgium’s language communities have not always gotten along harmoniously. There has been tension between the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking communities going back many decades.

The main source of contention lies in the historical power dynamic favoring French public life, government, and education, which fueled resentment among Dutch speakers.

All government administration and education was conducted exclusively in French until the late 1800s. This created resentment among Dutch speakers, who felt their language and culture was being suppressed.

Over time, reforms like establishing separate language communities and regional governments aimed to create a more equitable linguistic landscape. However, tensions arose again after World War II due to various factors, including population shifts, economic disparities, and differing perspectives on cultural identity and political autonomy.

While the situation remains complex, ongoing dialogue and negotiation strive for a sustainable solution that respects the diverse voices within both linguistic communities.


Belgium is a multilingual country, with most Belgians speaking multiple languages fluently. This is partly due to Belgium’s language communities and regions, as well as its central location in Europe between France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Many Flemish Belgians speak both Dutch and French plus another language like English or German. French-speaking Belgians from Wallonia also tend to be bilingual in French and Dutch, if not trilingual. Even Belgians who live in the smaller German-speaking community in the east of the country usually speak German, French, and Dutch.

In Brussels, which is officially bilingual (French and Dutch), most inhabitants speak both languages to some degree. Many residents speak English as well, and some also know German or other languages.

Generally speaking, multilingualism is the norm rather than the exception in Belgium. Being able to switch between languages is an everyday part of life and work.

Tips for the Tongue-Tied Traveler

So, what can you, the intrepid tourist, do to avoid linguistic faux pas? Learn a few basic phrases in both Dutch, French, and even German if you’re venturing east.

“Dank u,” “Merci,” and “Danke schön” go a long way. Be patient, embrace the stumbles, and remember, laughter is the universal language (even if you sound like a frog trying to yodel).

Wrap Up

Language in Belgium isn’t just about communication; it’s about identity, history, and sometimes, a good-natured rivalry. Here every word carries cultural pride.

So, if you’re traveling to Belgium, don’t be afraid to try out your language skills. You might even make some new friends along the way.