View Full Version : Will English become Brussels' main language of comunication ?

08-11-07, 20:30
Brussels, European capital, seat of numerous international institutions and organisations, within 2 hours by train from London, Amsterdam, Paris or Cologne... Brussels officially has French and Dutch as official languages. But in a city where 35% of the population is foreign and over half claim foreign descent, official languages matter less and less.

In the EU district, English is already the most common language of communication. In international companies, and quite a few big Belgian companies as well, English is the working language, along with French or solely.

The recent (or not so recent) political tensions between the French- and Dutch-speaking communities have prompted Brusselers to think of the city-state as a new kind of place : a multilingual state that values cultural and linguistic diversity.

Personally, I think that the adoption and official recognition of English as an official language for the Brussels region would greatly improve the relations between the two national communities, but also facilitate life in general for everybody in the capital.

The idea is, if everybody comes to speak at least some English, whatever your mother-tongue, address strangers in English to avoid confusion.

Nowadays it is hard to choose what language to use, amongst French, Dutch or English, just to make a phone call or speak to someone in the street. Many Dutch speakers resent French-speakers to using French everywhere. Many French-speakers are uncomfortable being addressed in Dutch as well. So English is the obvious solution, as neither has any negative feeling about it, and it suits better all foreigners in Brussels (except maybe the French).

This would also help solve unemployment problems caused by too strict language-skill requirements. It has become normal for employers to ask prospective workers to speak French, Dutch AND English, even for low-paid jobs (manual workers are an exception, for obvious reasons).

This is why unemployment is over 20% in Brussels and tens of thousands of job offers remain unfilled. If English was the working language in more places, English language schools would supplant all others, and soon everybody would be speaking English and be in employment (well that's a bit easy to say, but things would definitely improve).

What is more, as English is a sort of fusion of Medieval French and Old Dutch. So that makes it equally easy for speakers or either language to learn it. Dutch speakers have an advantage for pronuciation, but French speakers for "difficult" vocabulary. That's the perfect lingua franca for Belgium. Ironically, it is in the heart of the old Frankish kingdom (http://www.eupedia.com/europe/frankish_influence_modern_europe.shtml#Belgium) that a lingua franca is now necessary.

The Economist has written on English in Brussels a few months ago :
Linguistic follies (http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9512531)