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What Language is Spoken in Belgium? Don’t Make This Mistake!

by Michele
4 comments
what language is spoken in belgium - Belgian Dutch Language Guide
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French, Dutch, or English? What Language is Spoken in Belgium? This guide will teach you the do’s and don’ts so you won’t get caught out.

Belgium has three official languages. Flemish Dutch, French and German. Flemish Dutch is spoken by 56% of the population, French 40%, and German 1%. Even though English isn’t an official language of Belgium, it is still spoken by 55% of its people.

When visiting Brussels, you can see by their bilingual street signs that both Dutch and French are widely used, therefore there is no risk of offending someone when opening a conversation in either language. In Bruges and Ghent, however, this is not the case. While researching for my trip to Bruges (and more recently, Ghent), I frequently read that it is more polite to address someone in English than French; obviously, that’s if you can’t speak Dutch! However, my ears were still abuzz with French spoken by shop assistants, helmsmen on the canal tours, and even by the guides in the museums. While I can speak French, I didn’t dare test out this theory.

What’s the Difference between Flemish and Dutch?

A common misconception is that Flemish is a completely different language. The term does not refer to a language nor a dialect but to the region, culture and people of (West) Belgium or Flanders. Flemish people speak Belgian Dutch in Flanders, which is the Flemish part of Belgium.

Just as the English language spoken in Australia, Canada, UK, USA, South-Africa; and French spoken in Belgium, Canada, France, and Switzerland, Belgian differ, so too does Dutch spoken in The Netherlands differ from that in Belgium. These differences are not significant enough to constitute an individual language, they are simply variations of pronunciation, lexicon, and expressions.

Just to make things more confusing, the locals often colloquially refer to their language as Flemish. But just remember that the official language in Flanders is standard Dutch.

what language is spoken in belgium - Belgian Dutch Language Guide

Now, let’s take a closer look standard Dutch and learn some words and phrases you can use in your travels.

For a Flemish-Dutch phrases, get my free Flemish travel phrase guide.

Dutch Pronunciation

Short vowels

a like ‘a’ in “calm”, (but shorter)
e like ‘e’ in “pen” or ‘e’ in “the” (at word endings)
like ‘i’ in “pin”
like ‘o’ in “fork”
oe like ‘oo’ in “too” (but shorter)
like ‘u’ in “upset”
like ‘i’ in “pin” or ‘ee’ in “deep”

Long vowels

a, aa like ‘aa’ in “Afrikaans”
e, ee like ‘a’ in “day”
eu similar to ‘e’ in “mercy”
ie like ‘ea’ in “sea”
o, oo like ‘o’ in “ago”
oe like ‘oo’ in “too”
u, uu like ‘รผ’ in German “Mรผnchen”

Diphthongs

A diphthong is also known as a gliding vowel. It refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable.

au, ou like ‘ow’ in “how”
eeuw like ‘a’ in “day” and substituting the ‘y’-sound at the end with a ‘w’-sound
ei, ij like ‘ay’ in “say”
ieuw like ‘ea’ in “sea” followed by a ‘w’-sound
ui like ‘i’ in “sir” followed by a ‘w’-sound.

Consonants

Most consonants in Dutch sound the same in English, but the following letters may trip you up.

like ‘c’ in “can” (k) or the ‘c’ in “certain” (s)
ch like ‘ch’ in Scottish “loch”
voiced ‘ch’-sound
like ‘y’ in “you”
like ‘n’ in “no”; often dropped at the end of words
either like the Scottish ‘r’/ Spanish ‘rr’ or like the French ‘r’ but from the back of the throat
sj like ‘sh’ in “she”
like ‘x’ in “axe”
like ‘y’ in “yes”

Common Standard Dutch Phrases

Hi! Hallo!
Yes/ No Ja / nee
Good morning! Goeiemorgen
Good evening! Goeie avond
Welcome! (greeting someone) Welgekomen
How are you? Hoe gaat het met jou?
I’m fine, thanks! Met mij is alles goed.Dank u.
And you? En jij?
Good / Bad / So-So. Goed / slecht / zo en zo
Thank you (very much)! Dank U wel!
You’re welcome! (after “thank you”) Het is niks, graag gedaan
Good night! Goeie nacht!
See you later! Ik zie je later!
Good bye! Vaarwel! / Tot ziens
Here you go! (when giving something) Alsjeblieft
How much is this? Hoeveel kost dit?
Excuse me …! (to ask for something) Excuseer mij…!
Excuse me! ( to pass by) Excuseer mij!

Introductions

What’s your name? Wat is je naam?
My name is … Mijn naam is …
Nice to meet you! Blij je te ontmoeten
I Don’t Understand! Ik versta het niet
Do you speak (English/ Dutch)? Spreek jij engels / nederlands?
Just a little. Een beetje.

Wishes

Happy new year! Gelukkig nieuwjaar
Merry Christmas! Zalig kerstmis
Bless you (when sneezing) Gezondheid

Hilarious Dutch Expressions


Want to learn Dutch? Visit my handy language resource guide.

Plus, if you want to know how the experts learn languages,  I asked 11 top polyglots to share their language learning secrets. Find out how they start learning a new language, overcome plateaus, and maintain multiple languages.


Visiting Belgium? Visit these beautiful cities

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what language is spoken in belgium - Belgian Dutch Language Guide

Sources LinguanautWikipedia | Wikitravel


Over to you!

Have you been to Belgium? Which language did you converse in? Did you find this guide helpful?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

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4 comments

Paul Fernandez June 29, 2020 - 07:04

To add a little bit of an overview to this article,The country is home to a number of non-official Romance languages, as well as several non-official Germanic languages.

Romance languages and dialects used in modern-day Belgium include Walloon, Picard, Champenois and Lorrain. All four of these are related to French and all four have been legally recognised by the Belgian government since 1990.

When it comes to Germanic dialects and minority languages, Belgium is home to West Flemish, Limburgish and Luxembourgish. Other dialects include East Flemish, Brabantian, Low Dietsch, Moselle Franconian and Ripuarian.

Marols (also called Brusseleir) is a mixture of French and Dutch influences that is spoken in Brussels, but the language is close to extinction.

Belgium is also home to some 20,000 Yiddish speakers as a result of the community of Ashkenazi Jews living in Antwerp. This is one of only a few Jewish communities around the world where Yiddish is still spoken as the dominant language.

There are also some 10,000 Romani or Sinti living in Belgium, many of whom speak Sinte Romani, a language from the Northwestern Romani group.

Reply
Michele July 27, 2020 - 21:10

Love all this additional information, thanks for sharing Paul ๐Ÿ™‚

Reply
Sabine December 12, 2015 - 12:18

Since I’m from Belgium (flemish speaking) I’m very glad to read this article. Not many people take the time to analyse the language in this small but complicated country ๐Ÿ™‚
It’s indeed difficult to explain what Flemish really is, that it is in fact Dutch but we call it Flemish. Many people do not understand. So funny at times!!

Reply
Michele December 12, 2015 - 15:05

Dank u, Sabine! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I found it particularly interesting to research. Languages continue to fascinate me. Shortly, I will write an article about the similarities between Dutch and Afrikaans. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that too ๐Ÿ™‚

Reply

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