Brussels is the capital of Belgium and has for a very long time had French and Dutch as its official languages. That said according to a study published by the Flemish University of Brussels, there are 104 languages spoken in the country.
According to the census and various other studies, it is mostly agreed that Brussels consists of 88% French speakers 30% English, 23% Dutch, 9% Spanish and 18% Arabic speakers. Most inhabitants speak various languages, and with a 25% Muslim population, Arabic happens to be one of the fastest growing languages.
Do Businesses in Belgium Need to be Multi Lingual?
You will encounter Flemish speakers in the business world who are pretty good linguistically when it comes to speaking English in addition to their mother tongue. That’s in addition to French which for most people is their mother tongue. However, the Wallons have French as their mother tongue and can speak better English than native Dutch speakers. So, yes while most Belgians are multilingual mainly because the country has three official languages, but that also means that your business needs to be multilingual too. Relying too heavily on English is a bad idea for the most part.
The Drawbacks of Not Being a Multi-lingual Business in Belgium
Now before we go any further to explain this, it is important to outline that by multilingual business we mean that the business should be able to communicate in the three official languages, i.e., French, Dutch, and German. Not being able to communicate in these languages will lead to serious issues which can hamper success. While you may not have a problem talking with business partners and employees but the general public or target audience can be confused by your lack of ability to speak their language.
Let’s take for instance a company that sells phone cards with discounted calling rates to Arabia. The target audience is Arabic speaking. Now while many Arabic speakers are from North Africa, there is a fraction who are from the Middle East. So, despite having marketing and advertising material in English or French it will also have to be in the Middle Eastern dialect of Arabic. That way you’re targeting those people using a language they cannot misunderstand.
Have Employees that Speak and Write Multiple Languages
One way to ensure that your business is multi-lingual is to hire employees locally who can speak the three official Belgium languages at least. Having local employees has two advantages, the first being the apparent language barrier they will help the business transcend and the second being that they ensure that the business carries over a familiar culture.
If you are just starting out and are a small business moving from another country, it would be a good idea to have professional translators working for you. Translators who are native, German, French and Dutch speakers can ensure that your marketing and advertising material is accurately translated. That way there is no possibility of sending out the wrong message which can be detrimental to your business.