Dutch spoken more often, but not better, in the capital

Summary

While fewer Brussels residents think they speak the language well, more of them are actually using Dutch on a daily basis

Language paradox

Good news and bad news for Dutch speakers in the capital: While fewer residents say that they speak Dutch ‘well’ or ‘very well’, the language is being used a lot more lately. Those are the major findings of the Taalbarometer, which monitors the use of the language in Brussels.

The barometer findings are based on interviews with a representative sample of 2,500 people who are registered residents of Brussels. The first study was released in 2001, and today the results of the fourth edition were announced by Rudy Janssens of research agency Brio and minister Sven Gatz, responsible for Flemish policies in Brussels.

Only 16% of those polled said that they spoke Dutch (very) well, a huge slide from the 33% who reported doing so in 2001 and even from the 23% who reported doing so in 2013.

Gatz isn’t taking it to heart, though, noting that a “huge number of new residents have arrived over the last few years, creating a super-diverse, cosmopolitan and multi-lingual city”. And he’s intrigued by the idea that, whether they speak it well or not, people are speaking Dutch much more often than they used to, especially at work, in shops – both as customers and staff – and when obtaining services.

Some 50% of respondents said they use at least some Dutch at work, while 30% use it while shopping. One-quarter use it when talking to neighbours. What Gatz said he would like to see is more inclusive language education when it comes to Dutch. Less than 8% of pupils in French-language schools in Brussels, for instance, said they could speak Dutch reasonably well.

“Being multilingual in Brussels is an important factor in finding work; knowledge of Dutch increases your chances on the job market,” he said. “It’s also an essential component of shared citizenship.”

The barometer also showed that English is the second-most spoken language in Brussels, after French. Dutch is third.

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