Home Education Language Learning The languages of Belgium
Last update on June 01, 2021

Language in Belgium is a clash of regions, dialects and politics, so it’s necessary to be bilingual – at the very least – if you plan on working in a Belgian national institution.

To get a job in almost any Belgian national institution you need to be bilingual. This puts the French-speakers at a distinct disadvantage as they are by tradition deeply reluctant to learn Dutch. What, they argue, is the point of learning a language that only six million people speak? (22 million, if you include the actual Dutch). In revenge, Flemish Dutch-speakers – even those holding government posts – pointedly refuse to speak French. With hindsight, one might suggest that the Belgian government should long ago have taken decisive action. They could ensure that all Belgians were fully bilingual. Oh no, say the Flemish with a grin; if that had happened, the French-speakers would not have so conveniently disqualified themselves from virtually all government posts.


Unsure why your partner has just called you a cabbage? You might want to brush up on your French. Thankfully, with Babbel you can follow a range of professionally-made French courses from the comfort of your own phone. Whether you're just starting out or a budding Victor Hugo, Babbel has the right French course for you.

Dutch (formerly known as Flemish)

It’s official: the language of Flanders has been rebranded as Dutch, and calling it Flemish is now discouraged. Nonetheless, many people still refer casually to Vlaams (Flemish) as a language – though this was never so much a language as a disparate collection of dialects, so disparate that the people of West Flanders find it hard to understand those in the east. At school the Flemish learn Dutch, i.e. Nederlands, which is effectively the lingua franca of the Dutch-speaking world, and this enables them to talk to all fellow Flemings, as well as the Dutch themselves (who also have their own dialects).


The word Walloon comes from the name of a Romanised Celtic tribe, the Wala, who lived in southern Belgium and developed their own kind of French, which, after all, is a mixture of Celtic and Latin. Walloon is thus a dialect form of French, or rather a collection of regional dialects. Today few people speak wholly in Walloon and the language has all but vanished, preserved in a few words that pepper the language of the French-speakers of Wallonia. For instance, some say les canadas for potatoes.