Like any other country, Belgium also has official languages. These are Dutch, French and German. These three languages are spoken in areas that are more or less delineated. Mid-last century, language areas were delineated on the basis of language use. The prevailing language spoken in a specific area also became the language of administration for that area.
Belgium is composed of four language areas: the Dutch language area, the French language area, the German language area (9 municipalities in the east of Belgium) and the bilingual Brussels-Capital area. This subdivision into language areas and official languages does by no means detract from the language freedom.
The use of one (or several) of these official languages is compulsory in a limited number of situations, especially in contacts with the authorities. Sometimes this obligation only applies to the official body, other times to the citizens as well.
How many people speak which language?
Belgium counts over 11 million inhabitants: over 6.25 million in the Flemish Region (Dutch language area), 3.5 million in the Walloon Region (French language area + German language area) and over 1 million in the Brussels-Capital Region (bilingual area). It is difficult to verify the number of Dutch speakers and French speakers in Belgium.
The Walloon Region, for instance, is also home to Dutch speakers, and the Flemish Region to French speakers.
The Brussels-Capital Region has French speakers, Dutch speakers and foreign speakers among its inhabitants. It is not registered anywhere who speaks which language. The German-speaking Community (which is a part of the Walloon Region) counts about 75,000 inhabitants.
Which languages do the inhabitantsof Belgium speak?
An increasing number of Flemish people and French speakers in Belgium speak at least a second and even a third language. Many people also speak English.
A lot of Flemish people speak French and since some time now more French speakers are learning Dutch. The knowledge of German is less widely spread.
Most people start to learn an additional language in language education. In Dutch-language education the French lessons start at the age of 10.
At the age of 14, pupils are also taught English. This may be followed by German and Spanish. Flemish people frequently come into contact with the English language through the media. Foreign films and TV series, for instance, are not dubbed, but subtitled.
As a result, you can often also speak English in informal situations throughout Belgium. However, this does not change anything about the use of the official languages of administration in each language area.
It is therefore recommended to also learn the language of that area.
(Source 'Living In Translation' - VZW De Rand)