Brussels - Post Report Question and Answers

How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Most Belgians speak very good English. Even if I attempt to speak French, they speak English to me. - Apr 2024

You don't need to speak the local language really, but basic French pleasantries and a few sentences will help with simple transactions, e.g., buying food at the local butcher, who may not speak English. - Feb 2023

You can get by fine with just English. We found that the Dutch-speaking communities never had trouble with this, but in French-speaking communities, even my less-than-perfect French got scowls. - Jan 2022

People told us that we did not need to learn the language to go to Brussels, and we found this to be entirely untrue. I would say learning at least basic French is definitely necessary. Downtown you will find a lot of English, but as you move into the other communes you simply need to have the language. We found that almost no one in our local stores spoke English. A lot of people are unwilling to speak English. The Embassy offered language classes which I took for basic language skills. - Oct 2021

Getting around with just English is doable but of course it couldn't hurt to pick up some french. I used lessons on youtube as well as attended a class at a local commune's school for a short time. - Apr 2021

Everybody speaks English here so you can easily get by with little or no French/dutch. It is harder to get by outside of Brussels, but not impossible. Learning the local language is very easy. There are any studios offering classes. Some Dutch speaking communes offer free language classes to help integrate into the life. It was hard to practice my French because everybody speaks English and they want to practice. - Sep 2020

You can get by without either French or Dutch reasonable well in the Brussels area. Some shops can be more limited than others, and if you go further outside the city, it can be harder. Dutch speakers tend to speak English very well, and many French speakers do as well- many speak all three languages fluently. Even if you want to speak French, many will automatically switch to English once they realize you are not a native French speaker. The Embassy offers a decent language program, and there are many opportunities to take classes through the communes, at a local language school, university, or with private tutors. - Sep 2020

In Brussels it is very easy to get by in English. Most of the people who live in Brussels proper are French-speaking. If you venture into Wallonia, the southern French region, you'll need some basic French. In Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region to the north, just use English. Knowing a few words and phrases in Dutch/Flemish will be appreciated, though. Language classes are widely available but I'm not sure of the cost. - Mar 2020

Not much. If you try to speak in French, the locals get a bit irritated and switch immediately to English. The Dutch Belgians are much more friendly then the French Belgians. - Feb 2019

I thought my French would improve here, but actually it's fallen further into disuse. It is not only possible to get by in English it is sometimes necessary. In Dutch-speaking parts of the country people prefer to speak English than French with you. - Feb 2019

English will get you by in most situations, though some basic French definitely comes in handy. - May 2018

You can get by with literally zero. Brussels is full of people from the British Isles and Eastern Europeans whose second language is English. A lot of local companies' websites are in Dutch, French, and English. That said, your life is significantly easier if you can speak some basic French (in Brussels) or Dutch (in the Flemish outer suburbs like Tervuren).

When travelling around the country, you can get by with English nearly anywhere; you have to get pretty far off the usual tourist path in Wallonia to find somewhere that no one speaks English. In Flanders I'm not sure it's possible at all.

Local language classes are offered by the government in addition to private organizations. Through the government, French classes cost around €150 per semester and Dutch classes are free. It's also easy to take Spanish and German classes if you're so inclined. - Jan 2018

You really can get by with no French at all. Learning pleasantries is always nice but most locals speak English. The few times I found myself with total language barriers I was lucky enough to have passersby stop to assist. - Feb 2017

If you do not want to learn another language, you can get by with English here. That said, if you want to learn and practice French, you have ample opportunity! Tutors are widely available. - Dec 2016

In Brussels, we use French every day. Some of the communes that are Flemish have more English speakers. - Aug 2014

My husband and I have some French already, but he rarely uses his. It's useful for reading menus and labels, but not totally necessary. Farther north, they speak mainly Dutch and I have no Dutch whatsoever. But we make a game out of trying to read menus - kind of like Russian roulette with food, lol. Sooo many people speak English, it's actually difficult to practice your French or Dutch. - Jul 2014

It is helpful but you can survive without it. Once in a while you will find someone who speaks no English (like the mechanic for your car!). - Apr 2014

English is widely spoken but knowledge of a local language will help you navigate Belgium's horrendous bureaucracy and lack of a customer service culture. French is the local lingua franca but Dutch is spoken in Brussels and the Flanders region. - Jan 2014

Lots of people speak English in Brussels. It is full of diplomats and other Europeans. But, some French is quite helpful, particularly for things like local preschools, dealing with the phone company, stuff with your commune, etc. - Jan 2014

You can get by without any, but at times you will have to move on to someone that speaks your language to get your answer. It would really help to know French or Dutch (Flemish). Belgians are not particularly friendly or service-conscious. - Oct 2012

People can live fine doing everything in English. Generally if you call up a service provider and choose the 'Dutch' option, the person will speak English. The Flemish community runs subsidized, super-cheap Dutch classes... take a few of those and you'll probably be able to converse in Dutch on a par with snotty shop assistants and commune officials. - May 2012

It's nice to have some french, but, as this is the capital of the EU, most people speak english to varying degrees. - Jan 2012

There is a very large English speaking community in Brussels, so you can live in your bubble if you wish. - Nov 2011

Language is a very interesting issue here as just about every political and social issue comes down to the divide between the French speakers and Dutch speakers. In fact, you are much better off speaking English to a Belgian than speaking the "wrong" local language. - Aug 2011

if you live outside Brussels Flemish (a derivative of Dutch) is spoken. In Brussels both Flemish and French are spoken though French takes preceedence. But in general, as a rule, everyone speaks a little English. If you do not want to learn either Flemish or French you will not have to. But it would be polite if you picked up the basic greeting rituals. - Jul 2011

It helps to speak french to get by in the market, but it's not essential. - Jun 2011

It helps to know French, but it's not truly necessary. - Jun 2011

Not much, though some French helps. - Jun 2010

French helps in Francophone areas. Everyone in the Flemish areas speaks English. - Jun 2010

Everyone speaks some English, particularly the Flemish. Francophones usually speak less English so some French helps and is appreciated. - Mar 2010

None. Everyone speaks english in Brussels. - Jul 2009

Subscribe to our newsletter

New book from Talesmag! Honest and courageous stories of life abroad with special needs.

Read More