Language in Belgium

Dec 12th, 2006, 06:41 AM
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Language in Belgium

Okay, I know that they speak Flemish and French in Belgium...was it easy to get around just knowing English? Were some of the menus in English? Thanks for anything! Michelle
CHELLOLIVE is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 06:52 AM
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Depends which part in Belgium you go to. In Brussels ( the predominantly French speaking) almost everyone speaks English- seeing as it is the capital of Europe. Even the signs are in English.

In Brugge as well many speak English. I've been many times to Ghent(flanders) to visit some friends, its a 'student town' hence most of the younger generation speak English as well, just in a different dialect of course. I rememeber going to a resturant in Brugge and my flemish friends ordered thiers in 'Netherlands' Menus and i got mine in English although i could get away with a bit of broken Flemish.

The televised programmes are mainly in English as well, excluding of course the news and some other programmes.
Many of the older ones learned English when they were younger - so they tend to be a bit rusty and a bit embarrased to speak back to you in English, but they soon give it a go.
Its a lovely country. Great people. Loads of fun. Hope this helped!
Ik hoop jy het dit genieten!
Sammi1 is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 06:55 AM
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My experience is that Flemish speakers would sooner speak bad English than French, even though most of them have learned French.

I can't tell you about French speakers, because I am able to use French with them. I have the impression that many of them can manage some English.

Bear in mind that it is better to ask if they can speak English. Even if they can't, the good manners of asking is appreciated, and people usually try harder to accommodate you.

You will find menus in English in lots of tourism destinations.
Padraig is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 06:56 AM
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The Dutch/Flemish speakers don't like speaking French and vice versa. English is becoming the common language, but it's always better and easier to speak some of the local language. In Belgium, you need to remember to note which is the local language: if you're in the Dutch-speaking part and you don't speak Dutch, then English is likely to be the best bet; in the French speaking part, English will be more useful than Dutch. If you look at job adverts in Belgium, you'll see that most well-paid office jobs require all three languages. You'll get by all right in English, but learning some of the local language s always a good idea.
GeoffHamer is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 06:59 AM
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In the Flemish speaking areas of Ghent, Antwerp, Brugge, you'll find that people can manage to speak some English relatively well to adequate. But in the French speaking (called the Walloon area) of Belgium, English may not be spoken at all, or very little.

It's interesting-my best friend who lives in Brussels, and belongs to an American Women's Club there in the area was telling me a few weeks ago that an American woman whose husband had just been transferred to Belgium had the following to say " boy, I don't know what those people in the States were smokin' but to say that everyone speaks English here is sure not the case!"

We laughed about that, because we both know that to be true-she's lived in Belgium now 7 years, and I'm there usually once a year, at least, and I can tell you, I was quite surprised, going into the beauty salon Espace Alex Ferrer this past first week of October, outside of Brussels, and NO ONE SPOKE ONE WORD OF ENGLISH. Really. That was the first time that had happened to me-anywhere, at any beauty salon in the world. (Yes, I can manage in French, but I feel embarassed at how rusty my conversational skills have gotten).

The gist of what I am saying here is, English is NOT spoken there as a matter of course, contrary to what many people would like you to believe-even in the international city of Brussels-and I've been in and out of Beglium now 16 years, nothing has changed in that regard. You just don't hear English in the shops and restaurants. BUT, as I said, you'll have a much easier time in the Flemish speaking cities than the primarily French-speaking areas.

Girlspytravel is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 07:05 AM
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@ GeoffHammer
<<The Dutch/Flemish speakers don't like speaking French and vice versa.>>
Where did you get this? I'm Flemish and whenever necessary I will speak French, as this is my second language. A 'problem city' in this respect used to be Brussels in the 60's to 80's where Flemish-speakers would refuse to speak French and vice-versa but this was based on political grounds. Those times are long gone, thank god.

@ chellolive
You will have no problems just speaking English. Anyway, for the average Belgian, English is easier to understand than broken French or broken Flemish.
MyriamC is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 07:15 AM
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MyriamC- I TOTALLY disagree with your statement "you will have no problems speaking English" while in Belgium. That's just simply not a true statement.
Girlspytravel is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 07:28 AM
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On my last trip to Brussels I had to use my weak French several times. Not everybody speaks English, or Dutch. The city is officially bi-lingual but not always on the street.

There is a third official language in Belgium. German is spoken in a small area in the east.

hopscotch is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 07:35 AM
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In the eastern part of Belgium - the Ardennes - it is as Girlspytravel says. Very little or no English is spoken, and in some more remote places where they speak the Walloon dialect you may not even be understood in French. It is a beautiful part of the world.

But around Brussels, Brugge, Antwerp, and western Belgium you should have little difficulty.

julia_t is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 07:43 AM
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In my experience, the Flemish part of the population are better with English than the French-speaking part of the population. You do sometimes meet people in Wallonie (the French part) that only speak french and nothing else.
But you can usually get by with English, especially in areas with lots of tourists.
(I'm Dutch, living in Belgium).
Tulips is offline  
Dec 13th, 2006, 04:00 AM
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It depends on where you are and who you're dealing with. The people at my hair salon on the Ave. Louise speak French only (in 5 years, I've never heard them speak Dutch/Flemish or English). The repairmen/technicians we've seen over the years have only spoken French. The guys at the commune never spoke anything but French with us (or with any other darn foreigners trying to get their residency permits) and would deign to speak Dutch/Flemish only with much eye rolling and sighs of exasperation (I've heard the opposite is true in some Flemish areas like Tervuren).
OTOH, business professionals generally speak English (although not always as well as they think they do). Healthcare workers usually speak English (the staff at our dog's vet clinic in Leuven speak excellent English, although I practice my Dutch on the other pet owners in the waiting room, what the heck, they're a captive audience). People in restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. usually speak passable to excellent English. Staff on the trains usually speak English; tram and bus drivers may not.
Overall, I think it's an incorrect generalization to claim that everyone in Belgium speaks English (note: one-third of Brussels inhabitants are foreign, and plenty of those don't speak French or Flemish). But people who deal with tourists usually do.
BTilke is offline  
Dec 13th, 2006, 05:02 AM
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We have visited Brugge several times. We have had no problems just speaking English

However after our first visit, I learned some basic words in flemish to be able to read signs (shops' open/close times/days), train schedules, etc.
baby2 is offline  
Dec 13th, 2006, 09:56 AM
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Have traveled extensively in Belgium - not just Brussels, Brugge and Ghent, but also Liege, Spa and a lot of smaller towns in the west.

We never had trouble anywhere speaking only English. (That said - many places did not have English menus - and we avoided those that did. We both speak some broken French and can manage menus in many languages - with the aid of a small pocket menu reader - but we now use it less and less.)

But - if you're uncomfortable with someone who doesn't speak English - well, you can find that anywhere and need to learn to cope - with bits of other languages or sign language.
nytraveler is offline  
Dec 13th, 2006, 02:20 PM
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Forget the Flemish/French complication.

Why do you need English menus? Can you really not learn enough French to order a moules frites?
flanneruk is offline  
Dec 17th, 2006, 05:22 AM
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Thanks everyone for all your help! We are off next Sunday!
CHELLOLIVE is offline  
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