Do you speak Belgian? Expats finally get an answer

Wed 13/04/2011 - 11:24 VRT News's political editor Michaël Van Droogenbroeck is the author of a helpful new brochure answering the most frequent questions about language usage posed by international people in Belgium. The brochure is available in English, Dutch, French and German and is an initiative of the cultural organisation De Rand that operates in the Flemish area around Brussels.

For the next ten days flandersnews will be highlighting each of the questions in turn and at the end of the day, if you're query about the language situation in Belgium has not been answered, we'd love to hear from you! We will try to answer all the intelligent queries you send us!

De Rand, the Flemish area around Brussels, is one of the favourite places for international people to set up home. It's relatively near to the centre of Brussels, but also offers a pleasant living environment. For thousands of expats it's home. Figures from the Flemish Free University of Brussels (VUB) for 2008 show that 11.5 % of the population of the Flemish municipalities around Brussels consists of foreign nationals. In the six Flemish municipalities where Francophones enjoy special rights this figure even rises to 17.1%.

For expats arriving here Belgium is often an entirely new world and our concerns with language seem somewhat of a mystery. Sometimes the Belgian construction is poorly understood and language laws are seen as complex and not always very logical.

This motivated VRT journalist Michaël Van Droogenbroeck to attempt to answer the ten questions that expats most frequently ask about language usage with special emphasis on the situation in the area around Brussels.

The brochure is entitled "Living in Translation". It provides an answer to questions like "In which language can I contact the authorities?", "Why is Brussels bilingual when only a minority of Dutch-speakers live there?" and "What language is spoken in companies and hospitals?"

In his answers Van Droogenbroeck explains Belgium's institutional structure and linguistic legislation for people with no prior knowledge of the country. Expats were involved in the drafting of the brochure. The ten questions dealt with were all put at the Speaker's Corner event last December. Speaker's Corners are staged twice a year. It's a reading with simultaneous translation that the not-for-profit organisation De Rand organises especially for the expat community around Brussels. Derek Blyth, the editor-in-chief of Belgium's English news magazine The Bulletin, also served as an advisor for the brochure.

"Living in Translation" is available in English, Dutch, French and German. Starting 16 April you can pick up your copy from any of the cultural centres operated by De Rand and from the Muntpunt, the Information centre on the Muntplein (Entrance Prinsenstraat 8) in Brussels. The brochure was also sent out with Flanders Today, the free Flemish news magazine.

The brochure can also be consulted online at

If you have a question about the language situation in Belgium, we'd love to hear from you! We will try to answer as many of your questions as possible.  Send your email to