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Multilingualism in Belgium, a competitive advantage

One of Belgium’s strengths is the language skills of its workers and, on September 26, we celebrate Belgium and Europe’s rich language diversity.

September 26 is the European Day of Languages, a day aimed at promoting the rich linguistic diversity of Europe and encouraging Europeans to learn different languages. Learning another language is not only socially and intellectually rewarding, it also helps jobseekers stand out on the labor market.

Multilingualism is woven into the cultural fabric of Belgium. The country has three official languages: Dutch (the mother tongue of 56% of the population; French, 38%; and German, 1%). The importance of language skills is emphasized throughout the Belgian education system, with children learning a second official language in elementary school and a third language – typically English – in high school. As a result, Belgium is time and again recognized for its multilingual workforce. This is a competitive advantage in the globalized economy. Companies in Belgium are able to leverage this talent pool, and your typical firm could just as easily take an order from the UK as it could negotiate with Dutch suppliers and effectively advertise products in France.

According to a 2012 Eurobarometer survey, an impressive 38% of Belgians use a second or third language at the office and 27% can converse in three or more languages. Similarly, 88% of Belgians believe that improving language skills should be a policy priority, which is not a surprise considering that their language skills systematically rank well ahead of the EU average.

Belgians’ language ability is only further reinforced by Brussels’s position as the capital of Europe. Belgians are constantly surrounded by different EU languages and as such are adept at learning new languages as well as working effectively in multicultural environments. (Foreign tourists take note, should you get ever get lost, Belgium is the place to be!)

Going forward, we obviously want to make sure that language education continues to get the focus and resources it deserves. We can only stress the importance of these efforts for international business.

Today, as we celebrate European languages, we are also celebrating one of Belgium’s many assets. If you want to join the celebrations, visit this page to find an activity near you.