Most Common Languages Spoken in Belgium (Plus Some Uncommon Ones!)

Belgium’s three official languages are Dutch, French and German, with six regional and minority languages fast following their linguistic trail.

With Belgium being so abundant in languages, you know there’s some fascinating history to explore. 

In this post, we dive deep into the nine Belgium languages, the country’s linguistic diversity, history and geography of Belgium.

Please note: The number of speakers of each language are expressed as a percentage of Belgium’s population, which is roughly 11,700,000 people. 


Languages Spoken in Belgium

infographic map of the nine languages spoken in Belgium and where they are spoken 1. Dutch

Number of native speakers: 55% of population

Number of second-language speakers: 16% of population

Dutch has the most native speakers in Belgium, with approximately 55% of the Belgian population speaking Dutch as a first language.

It’s often called Flemish Dutch because of its heavy influence from the 19th-century Flemish Movement, making it slightly different from the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands.

However, the Belgium senate didn’t even consider discussing making Dutch an official language until almost the 20th century.

This was because Dutch carried a political stigma—it was the language of King William I, the Protestant monarch from whom Catholic-majority Belgium had recently gained its independence.

2. French 

Number of native speakers: 39% of population

Number of second-language speakers: 49% of population

The Brussels-Capital Region and the City of Brussels are Dutch-French bilingual.

Although there’s still a strong Dutch influence in Brussels—as of 2009, it was nearly mandatory for employment there—visitors can get by with a good command of French.

The distinct flavor of French spoken in Belgium is considered one of the major varieties of modern French.

In the southern part of Belgium (also known as Wallonia), French is natively spoken by approximately 39% of the population.

This isn’t surprising, given the political and military history.

Only 35 years before Belgian independence, France had annexed much of modern-day Belgium under Napoleonic rule.

At the time of the Belgian revolution, French was deemed the official language of the court and the common language of the well-educated elite.

For French speakers traveling to Bruxelles (Brussels), French is the predominant language in this very international city, with about 80% of its population speaking it.

3. German

Number of native speakers: 1% of population

Number of second-language speakers: 22% of population

Modern German is the third official language of Belgium. However, it’s only spoken natively by 1% of the Belgian population.

Belgium’s German speakers are usually in the East Cantons, a sliver of land bordering Germany.

Nine communes in this part of Wallonia proclaim German as their official language, and two more offer accommodations for educational and administrative purposes.

The influence of German languages in Belgium traces back to the Frankish tribes who dominated the country’s northern area, replacing Roman rule around 300 AD/CE.

And after WWI, the area now generally known as the East Cantons—also known as Eupen-Malmedy—was ceded to Belgium as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

With this annexation, Belgium officially gained a small community of German speakers.

Since 1973, their descendants have been governed by the Parliament of the German-speaking Community, headquartered in Eupen (Liège province).

If you want to learn Belgian languages like German, beware that the Belgian dialect is a bit different than what’s spoken in Germany.

For this reason, I recommend using an online immersion program like FluentU that lets you learn two of the most common Belgian languages—French and German—in context through authentic videos like news reports and music videos. 

Because these videos are made by and for native speakers, you’ll get exposed to the language as it’s really spoken in different contexts.

FluentU is also available as an app on iOS and Android

4. Regional and Minority Languages

Belgium is home to numerous regional and minority languages, which tend to be closely related to Dutch, French and German.

Regional languages related to French include Walloon, Champenois, Lorrain (Gaumais) and Picard.

And language variants on the Germanic side in Belgium include Yiddish and Moselle Franconian (with relative dialects in Low Dietsch, Ripuarian and Southeast Limburgish).


Number of native speakers: 6% of population

Primarily spoken in the province of Liege—with only 6% being spoken in Brabant-Wallon, Namur, northern parts of Luxembourg and the eastern part of Hainaut—Walloon is considered “definitely endangered” by the UNESCO “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger” and a minority language.


Number of native speakers: <1% of population

Champenois is primarily spoken in Vresse-sur-Semois in the Namur province of Belgium, where it’s spoken by less than 1% of the population.

As the name indicates, it’s also spoken in the province of Champagne in France. (It can be found in Île-de-France, as well.)

Sadly, UNESCO rates Champenois as a severely endangered language.

Lorrain (Gaumais)

Number of native speakers: <1% of population

Less than 1% of speakers of Lorrain are found in the far southeast corner of Belgium—primarily in a town called Gaume—where it’s a recognized regional language referred to as Gaumais.


Number of native speakers: 2% of population

As of 1990, Picard was recognized in Belgium’s French community as a regional language.

Unfortunately, like several of its sister languages—and numerous minor Romance languages in the region—Picard is seriously endangered with only 2% of the population speaking the language.

Even in France’s la région Picardie (the Picardy region), there are relatively few speakers left.

Moselle Franconian

Number of native speakers: <1% of population

Named partly after the river shared by France, Germany and Belgium, Moselle Franconian is related to Luxembourgish, an official language in Luxembourg and a recognized minority language in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation.

Relative dialects and dariants:

  • The Ripuarian dialect (spoken in Liège)
  • Low Dietsch variant (from the Duchy of Limburg)
  • Southeast Limburgish dialect (heard in the town of Eynatten, in the far northeast corner of Belgium)
  • Eifelisch (a variety of Moselle Franconian that towers above the others spoken in Belgium)


Number of native speakers: <1% of population

Yiddish has been spoken in Belgium for over 750 years. It plays a prominent role in the Jewish community and has deep roots in Antwerp, Belgium’s second-largest city. 

Beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing through the travails of life under Spanish, Austrian, French and Dutch rule, the Yiddish speakers of Belgium continue to operate schools, synagogues, professional associations and political groups.

However, less than 1% of the population now speaks the language.

Additional International Languages Spoken in Belgium

The new century has brought an even mix of European and non-European immigrants—and their languages—to Belgium.

Like many countries, Belgium has gone through phases of more liberal immigration policies, followed by immigration restrictions.

Here’s an interesting and impactful timeline about Belgiums’ demographic and immigration history:

  • 1960s: Belgium’s work-permit policies attracted immigrants from Turkey, North Africa and Southern Europe. By the end of the 1960s, the Belgian government began closing its doors to immigrant workers.
  • Mid-1970s: Increased unemployment and the economic recession forced Belgium to limit the number of immigrants it could accept.
  • Mid-1980s: Fast forward 10 years and Belgium—by the mid-1980s—was once again freely welcoming immigrants and naturalizing citizens. Belgium has accepted more economic immigrants and asylum-seekers. As a result, the ethnic and linguistic mix of the country has changed dramatically in recent years.
  • As of 2022: With a population of over 11.6 million people, over 1.5 million are registered foreign nationals in Belgium.

Modern immigrant languages spoken mostly as a second language—with a small percentage spoken as a first language in Belgium—now include:

  • English (native: 2%, second-language: 55%)
  • Spanish (native: 5%)
  • Italian (native: 2%, second-language: 1%)
  • Arabic (native: 3%, second-language: 1%)
  • Turkish (native: 1%)

The increase of Brussels-dwellers speaking English as a second language has risen to 38% as of 2022, due in part to Brussels minister Rudi Vervoort’s suggestion in 2013 that English should be made the Brussels-Capital region’s official language.

Taking a different approach, Brussels’ Plan Marnix (Marnix Plan) administrators propose that city-dwellers should try to learn each others’ languages, bridging gaps of understanding by becoming multilingual.

How History and Geography Impacted Belgium Languages

Belgium is a small country that borders France, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands—one of the main reasons languages like French and Dutch are so prevalent.

But Belgium’s diverse languages aren’t just a matter of simple geography—history also plays a significant role.

Long before Belgium existed as a modern nation, it was part of the Low Countries.

The history of the Low Countries stretches back to the Roman empire. The seaside geography of the region made it conducive to commerce and cultural co-mingling.

Port cities like Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent were important trade centers throughout the Middle Ages, with a well-established mercantile infrastructure.

These Belgian port cities welcomed tradesmen, artists, bankers and merchants from many foreign lands and with them, their languages.

It’s easy to look at a modern map of Europe and think of it as a snapshot of countries and their cultures.

However, the lines on today’s maps represent only the latest revision of each country’s borders and if you go back a few hundred years, many of those countries didn’t even exist as we know them today.

When Belgium became an independent country in 1830, its borders included regions where numerous languages—including Dutch, French and variations of both—were spoken.

Many descendants of the people inhabiting these border regions still speak their ancestors’ languages, albeit in more contemporary forms.

From the Battle of Waterloo to the Battle of the Bulge, Belgium has experienced centuries of incursions and immigrant settlements from neighboring countries.

Belgium was often the battleground in the power struggles of early modern Europe. This tradition continued well into the 20th century.

Being so strategically placed between major military, economic and political powers, Belgium’s neutrality didn’t spare it from the devastation and cultural changes imposed by warfare.

Germany invaded it in World War I—and then again 36 years later in World War II.

Although these trying times were often disastrous for Belgium, they helped shape the unique linguistic interplay that characterizes this modern nation today.


Belgium might have three official languages, but the full story of the languages spoken within its petite frame is so much more complex.

If you find yourself in Belgium, immerse yourself in its language and diverse history.

Belgium’s future is still unfolding, and its tales—old and new—are told in a myriad of tongues.

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