Language to use in Belgium

Jul 19th, 2017, 02:39 PM
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Language to use in Belgium

Will I have difficulty in Bruge, Ghent, Brussels, and Belgium coastline with speaking only English?

I understand that French and Dutch are spoken there? I do not know either but thought I would at least learn some of the French for simple things like ordering coffee, where's the toilet, ordering a beer or food, please, thank you, Any internet site would be appreciated in learning some key phrases.

I have a year! I am a 68 year 'young' person looking forward to my trip.

ACDB is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 03:18 PM
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You'll do fine with English.
travelhorizons is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 03:44 PM
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Use English. If you use French in the Dutch speaking area it may not go over well. If you really want to learn a few key phrases, get a guidebook, any good guidebook will have a language section.

Brugge and Ghent are both in the Flemish part of Belgium.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 03:49 PM
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Stick with English. You can get away with it.

If you want a background, first look up language map of Belgium. The places you are going are in Flemish speaking region except for Brussels which is bilingual.

Then look up articles on the role the language split plays in Belgian politics.

Until you know the ideology of the language of the person you are speaking to, stick with English. You stay neutral. I was in Brussels last month. I noted they used French to list the beers offered. Only then I used French to order a beer.
greg is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 04:36 PM
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Yup speak English and nearly everyone you meet in a tourist place especially will speak English and many Flemish (a kind of corrupted Dutch Dutch folk have called it) in general not just speak English but at times uncannily so.

But first time I went to Bruges I thought well my French may come in useful - WRONG - no one spoke it or would - one told me that years of domination by the French-speaking Walloons who largely ran Belgium - 'only old people speak some French here now-because they had to learn it at schools which were in French, the official language then of Belgium, and this suppression of local Flemish language was despised and that approbation carries on today somewhat.

(Most of my Flemish experiences were years ago so I do not know if this is still so - or really never was for that matter but made sense to me.)

So in the Dutch-speaking part (now ironically the economic powerhouse of Belgium, a reversal of roles long ago) you will have absolutely no problem IME.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 04:39 PM
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and many Flemish (a kind of corrupted Dutch Dutch folk have called it)>

should have said and mny folks who speak Flemish, - a kind of corrupted form of Dutch Dutch folk have described it).
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 05:01 PM
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It is true that the very centre of Brussels is bilingual but you predominantly meet people who only speak French there. Plus you have the enormous number of civil servants from abroad for whom French rather than Flemish - or indeed English - is the lingua franca. It is generally appreciated if you can bring out a few phrases of French if you are visiting. As the others have said, in Flanders you can use English and you can try to do so in Brussels too; people are a lot more accepting of this now than say 15 years ago.

Flanders actually encircles Brussels and so it is a mainly French-speaking island within Flanders. The surrounding Flemish communes (council areas) are attractive to live in and many Francophone people now live in those areas and have naturally brought their language and this is one source of the linguistic tension in some communes. In Wallonia (the southern part of the country) French is the language, with German in a tiny corner to the east, so if you visit Dinant or Liège for example they would be French-speaking too.

lavandula is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 05:13 PM
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I once rode my bicycle around the northern burbs of Brussels and was surprised that from one local to the next a mile or so away the language changed!

Such a small country to be divided linguistcally - no wonder I've heard that English has become the common language for younger Belgians to communicate with each other. Not sure that this is true but makes sense.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 05:33 PM
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Yes, English is taking over. I remember some time back being in Brussels with an acquaintance who wanted to use English with a waiter to order a beer or something and he gave her quite a serve (in French). But young people learn English nowadays. Even in hospitality - we were last in Belgium in 2016 - we noticed that people made a big effort to accommodate English, which was different to how I remember it. We were not even in very touristy places!

If I were not sensitive to the domination of English (I think you should always try to meet people halfway), I would say that English is a way out of their language conflict. But even English is not neutral - important to remember that - and I understand why it's not a panacea.

lavandula is offline  
Jul 19th, 2017, 11:30 PM
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With the exception of Brussels you will be in Flanders, and with Flemish speakers. They will for the most part speak English.
Brussels is in theory bi-lingual, but in practice is mostly French speaking, but English is widely spoken since it has so many nationalities living there.
Move out into Wallonia the French speaking part of Belgium, and it is harder to use English in my experience.
hetismij2 is offline  
Jul 20th, 2017, 03:57 AM
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I ran a french speaking business on the border in the south and regularly drove north to Zeebrugge. While my Dutch is very limited I learnt to start in English and move into French if they lead the way and avoided the odd few silent conversations I had when at the start of the project when I started in the wrrong language.
bilboburgler is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2017, 12:56 PM
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OM Gosh! Lots of helpful info from all of you. I shall keep with English; and I will look for a guide book with simple phrases. I have found a translator app which will help me pronounce some of the churches, areas, etc. Thanks again Fodorites!!!
ACDB is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2017, 01:08 PM
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I noticed in years of doing business in Flemish Belgium that folks often used "Please" instead of thank you-like the camp director at Antwerp Camping would always say "Please" after I paid him for our group.

I noticed that too at other places when paying a bill.

In a cafe I always asked for a "pils please" when wanting a beer and got the cafe's stock pilsener beer.

Learn some Dutch:


Gooden Daag for or Daag for hello

Dank u! Or Dank u wel (sometimes even Dank u very wel!) for saying thanks.

Austblief or just blief for saying good bye - little pleasantries go a long way.

Tot Zins for that's all folks.

I may not have all those spelt or used correctly but that's what I remember and welcome any corrections.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2017, 01:38 PM
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I assume hetismij will want to chime in.. but until then..

goede morgen -> good morning
goede dag -> good afternoon
dag -> actually just short for goede dag but more a generic "hello"
goedenavond -> good evening
NB: unless you know how to properly pronounce the "g" as "ch" (almost as strong as in Scottish "loch") and "oe" as English "oo" you can very well stick to English Hello

alstublieft -> please (in written often abbr. as a.u.b. as it is in fact three words in one)
dank u (wel) // bedankt -> thank you (very much)
NB: the "u" is pronounced as in French "tu" / you (or the German "ü" umlaut). "ie" is pronouced "ee"

tot ziens -> good-bye

Goede reis!
Cowboy1968 is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2017, 02:11 PM
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The Flemish and Dutch are especially adept at speaking English, and willing to do it. The Walloons not so much. But really, they all speak some English unless you are out in the hinterlands. Since you'll be in Flemish territory except for Brussels, learn some basic Dutch. They will love you for it.
StCirq is online now  
Jul 24th, 2017, 05:12 PM
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PalenQ and Cowboy1968, thank you for the helpful phrases! I have been fortunate in my travels that my attempt at hello, thank you , etc in the country language I am visiting have been appreciative of my efforts. As I said fortunate...other travelers sometimes are 'scoffed' at
Thanks again ACDB
ACDB is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 10:00 PM
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Don't worry about using English in Flanders and Brussels. No one will raise an eyebrow.
Also in the capital region you have literally thousands of ex-pats working for the EU institutions who have either no or very basic command of French. Every restaurant or shop in Brussels (at least at the "hotspots") is used to customers speaking no more French than bonjour and merci.

Only when using trains you should know how the destinations you want to travel to are spelled in the respective language region.
Since the places you want to visit are spelled very similarly in French or Flemish (or English), you should not have any problems to identify them on station or train displays, though.
Cowboy1968 is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 11:21 PM
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Flemish is pronounced differently to Dutch, it is a much softer language, and there are differences between the two. They have a soft "G" sound, as does the south of the Netherlands.

You ask for something with alstublieft, and they offer you the order with the same word. It means if it pleases you, just like S'il vous plais.

Belgians will also use blieft after other words if they don't understand you such as waarblieft, or just blieft. It is just being polite.

No Dutch or Belgian will ever say dank u very much. Never ever. They may say thank you very much and not be able to pronounce the TH sound (which is alien to the language) but that is a different matter.

Tot Ziens (not zins) means see you! Daag! is often said when you leave, and people are very aware of time, so will say goedemorgen until 12 noon then switch to goedemiddag. Goedenavond is after 6pm.
Do say hello, or one of the above greetings when walking into a small shop or cafe. Greet the waiter or the cashier in a supermarket or larger shop too.

But I wouldn't worry about it all. People are used to non speakers of the language and will speak English or at least understand a lot of it, due to TV.
hetismij2 is offline  
Jul 25th, 2017, 05:24 AM
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'Use English. If you use French in the Dutch speaking area it may not go over well.'

Utter nonsense. Politicians and the press are promoting the idea that flamingands (nationalist/separatist/racis/stupid flemish extremists *)are going to bite you if you speak French. I use French whenever I'm in Flanders and I can count on one hand the people who turn me down because I spoke French. At work I use indifferently French or Flemish and so does the person I'm talking to. Usualy we switch several times languages when discussing.

The worst that can happen is that they don't answer you, but even the worst flamingands will answer - in French if they can, but most Flamingands simply cannot - in French.

* : there are also some wallingants who are as stupid as flamingands but live in the south. Got one in the family...

* : flamingands are not to be confused with nationalist flamands, who for a reason or another would like to be independant. These people are normal persons.

Situation is however changing with a lot more people speaking English - Walloons and Flemish alike. For older people the 'cliché' of the Walloon spekaing only French is still marginally valid and the cliché of the old Flemish speaking French is overrated. All of my family born after WW2 speaks/spoke at a sufficient level English (on top of their flemish or french mothertongue).

For the young, less Flemish learn French (too bad) and more Walloons learn Flemish. So that basically a normal Belgian will be able to speak a little bit - and more than enough to accomodate a tourist - in French or Flemish or English. Actually about everybody I know can find a way in all 3 languages and some add German. If they are younger they will speak better and with a better accent.

We will say wablif(t) or 'sorry' when we don't understand and we will write S'il vous plaît (il -> t) that some will pronounce siouplé. We usually don't say 'goedemorgen' but 'goeiemorgen', goeiedag goeienavond etc. As hetismij says we soften the language. For those who understand Dutch, Flemish may be different. I learnt that the sentence 'waar komt u vandaan ?' that means 'where are you from' is often translated by 'van waar zijde gij ?' in an amical non formal conversation. Takes some time to get used to it...

Bruxelles is a different matter : at a very large majority frenchspeaking. I'd say 90%. Bonjour is ok, don't bother with bonsoir and forget 'bon après-midi' hardly ever used anymore. 'Au revoir' when you leave.

And use Flemish when in France and want to say something others won't understand ;-)
Whathello is offline  
Jul 25th, 2017, 07:53 AM
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I was once told by a Walloon unable to speak Flemish that he always claimed to be French when he went to Bruges because he got much friendlier service than if he said he was Belgian.
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