French is such a widely spoken, global language that I am surprised I didn’t have any posts on it yet. Thankfully, fellow travel blogger Lexie (who knows a lot more about French than me), is here to share here experience about how she conquered French in Belgium.
My name is Alexine but you can call me Lexie or Alex as you prefer. I came from the Philippines and our official language is Filipino. English is widely spoken there, and besides that there are a lot more dialects that different regions speak. In my case, since I come from the south I speak Filipino and English, as well as Visaya/Cebuano and Chabacano as dialects. I’ve also learned French in Belgium, which I would like to talk about today.
Way back in 2011 I went to Belgium to immigrate. It’s very personal but still I wanna share my story… I actually came to Brussels because my fiancé proposed to me and we planned to get married in his country.
At first it I felt strange being in such a new and different country. I didn’t know anyone else, and I didn’t have friends, so the first thing I did was to search for a French school in Belgium and perhaps learn their language for communication and socialization to have some friends. I also did some research about Filipinos living in Brussels because I thought that perhaps it will help me adapt here faster. At first I wanted to penetrate that community but somehow something triggered me to just first go study French.
Six months later I was able to communicate with other people easily and I gained much more confidence. I just spoke as I could – I didn’t worry about following the grammar rules. All I did was say the French words that I knew.
I must say my level was zero when I started the course. Fortunately I’ve evolved and a year later, I reached a good level. I can speak like a real Belgian (well, maybe not quite as fluent as they are).
How to Stay in Belgium
What kind of visa to get
Many nationalities are eligible for a Schengen visa on arrival, but as a Filipina I had to go through the visa process. Schengen visa is the popular one for tourist purposes.
I still remember how hard was it for me in the beginning, especially the part of getting a visa and processing all the documents needed. It was a lot of pressure and hassle; I applied for a fiancé visa for Schengen and first attempt was directly approved.
For visa application you must normally undergo to 2 sessions of interviews – the initial one when submitting your documents to the embassy and the second one for future interrogation. After the application, the processing time will be more or less 3 months and you’ll know if you get approved or rejected.
Is it easy to get a job?
For expats the easiest way to get a job in Belgium is to work in European Union or in an embassy, or as a freelancer or journalist. The rest of the jobs strongly require you to speak one of their official languages so it was a little bit hard for me at the beginning.
I would say it’ll be easy if you already have planned it before going to this country, nevertheless you still have some other options (you don’t earn that much but at least it’s a good start).
Working as part time in a restaurants, shops, and tourism office will be the ideal for English speakers, however the competition is fierce so you must make an impressive CV as well as interview well.
All jobs in Belgium are good. There’s no discrimination whether you work in a factory, postal services, salons, shops, or even working in cleaning services, helper or nanny or “aupair” but you have to take into consideration the possibility of being jobless when you come here without any plan or just barge into this place like I did.
When I finished my French course I tried to find a job and luckily I found one in a shop located in the city centre. From there I’ve learned that Belgians are required to speak English for the tourists sake but outside of the city it’s not really necessary.
I was jobless for a year and made that an advantage for me not solely to study their language but also at the same time having the opportunity to discover how beautiful this country is.
Where to stay in Belgium
This one doesn’t apply to me since I had my fiancé’s place but for those who are planning to stay in Belgium, Brussels is an ideal target. It has a lot of job opportunities; you can study and work at the same time. Renting will be from 500 Euros/month however if you find some shared living or flatmate situations it can be a lot less.
What to visit in Belgium
I travelled a bit from north to south, couple of east and western parts too and started to write my blog, then commonly about the country and its seasons.
There are certain cities that you must definitely visit. These are Brussels, Ghent, Brugge, Dinant, The Ardennes, Huy, and Antwerp. In my opinion, these are the most interesting cities that you must visit to make your stay complete.
Don’t forget to eat the Belgian fries, waffles, and chocolates. The special vegetable called “Brussels sprout” the dish “waterzooi” and indeed the Belgian Beer.
Languages in Belgium
There are 3 things you need to know about languages in Belgium:
- There are 3 official languages in this country: French, Dutch (aka Flemish) and German.
- English is not an official language
- Not all Belgians can speak English.
The country is divided into two sides – South and North – and they have dialects of their own as well, for example in South or Wallonia is “Wallon” and north is “Flamand” with their own old Flemish dialects. The center, Brussels, is divided into francophone or French speakers and Flamands/Flemish Dutch speakers.
Top secret information I want to share to you: most French Belgians (francophones) don’t speak English nor Dutch. On the other hand, Dutch Belgians (flamands) do speak French, as well as both Dutch and English, as if they were their mother tounge.
English in Belgium
If you happen to be in a touristic area, people do speak English but if you’re going to go to the southern part of the country there are seldom English speakers. However, my first impression when I came here was “I see French words in billboards, road signs, or in shop names all over”. I became afraid that no one would understand me if I spoke to them in English.
Normally Belgians speak English with a minimal French accent compared to French people. Usually Flemish Belgians do speak English.
German in Belgium
You might ask me why German is included right? Actually It is widely spoken in the border between Germany and Belgium. In the city of Liege almost everyone speaks German. However, German speakers make up a relatively small percentage of the total Belgian population.
French in Belgium
What’s the difference between the French in Belgium and France’s, Canada’s, or Switzeland’s French?
As we all know French in Belgium is commonly used. It is used nationwide as well as in other countries like France, Switzerland, Canada and some African countries. People would ask what’s the difference between French in Belgium and other versions of French – are they really similar? Is there any difference in accent?
Let me answer all of this one by one: French in Belgium is the same as the French spoken in France, however there is some slight difference when it comes to word use. Some examples:
For example in counting numbers, Belgians would say “septante” for seventy and “nonante” for ninety, but a French would normally say “soixant dix”and “quatre vingt dix”.
Then we have “petit déjeuner” breakfast, “déjeuner” lunch, “dîner” dinner in France while in Belgium they say “dejeuner” breakfast, “dîner” lunch, “souper” as dinner.
The word “à toute à l’heure” or “see you later” is used in France and commonly used is “à tantôt” in Belgium.
French in Belgium and French in Canada have some huge differences, especially in terms of accent and habitual expressions and nouns. For example a “folder” in Belgium is called “une farde”, where in Quebec it is “un cartable”. “Un cellular” for mobile phone is called “GSM” in Belgium.
French in Belgium and French in Switzerland is the same in accent but Swiss people generally speak slowly and take their time. In terms of numbers, it’s almost the same except “huitante” for eighty in Belgium and France is “quatre vingt” in Switzerland.
How to Learn French in Belgium
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Guide to a better French pronunciation
Now I will teach you some super easy breezy word and phrases in French as well as the technique on how to pronounce these words like a pro. These words are useful when you visit any French speaking countries, and are perfect for practising your French in Belgium. Take note that letter “r” has a special accent.
Bonjour – Hello, Good morning, “bon-ju”
Comment ça va? or Comment allez vous? – How are you? “como-sa-va?” “Comon-ta-le-vu?”
Je vais bien or Bien – I’m doing good, good, “je-ve-bya” “bya”
Merci or Merci à vous – Thank you “me-si” “me-si-a-vu”
À Bientôt – See you next time “a-byan-to”
Aurevoir – Good bye “O-re-vwa”
See? Easy right? One more thing you must bear in mind is that Belgian are polite, so they use the formal form of address. I believe it’s the right way to make a conversation with some people whom you barely know or you just met. They have formal and informal way to speak with others as you can see in my example words (I use “vous” (formal) instead of “tu” (informal)). It’s polite to use the formal address to speak with someone you don’t really know well or with strangers. The informal address is used for friends, classmates, colleagues, and family.
Tips on how to learn French in Belgium
Based on my experience of learning French I can say at the commencement of your journey in school you’ll be feeling weak, upset, and jealous of other classmates who could already speak well. So to improve your learning skills you must follow my rules:
- Get a second or third language course for practical application: It’s good to go at school with classmates and learn for 4 hours per day but it’s not enough to hone your skills. If you want to learn fast you need to speak too, not just write. Look for some courses on the internet like Rocket French or Babbel, or just enrol in a more intensive class.
- Watching TV, movies, listening to radio, and read preschooler books: As part of your process of learning, it is essential to learn the basics first. Watching TV and listening to radio makes you familiar with the words and sounds. It’ll make it easier to pronounce the right way. Watching French movies with English subtitles will help as well. Finally, reading preschooler books are the best way to learn basic words that are used daily by kids. Don’t feel embarrassed if you need to start with these books, remember your brain is new to this unfamiliar language and the only way to learn fast is to go right back to basics, and learn the same way kids do.
- Do not talk in English or other language that you know: Yes, this one is the biggest mistake of learners when they are in the classroom with friends or classmates. They forgot that they must speak French not English or other languages. Keep in mind that you are trying to learn French and your classmates as well, so stick to it and only communicate in the language that you need to learn.
- Study and Apply: common mistakes of many people is they study hard but never apply what they’ve learned. You must go out and try to talk with locals, even if you don’t speak fluently people won’t say that your French is not good. By contrast they will appreciate that you’re making an effort to speak their language and even help you for those vocabulary that you’re unfamiliar with. Just go out and socialize!
- Patience: No matter how long it will take for you to learn, just be patient. You will get there eventually! Bear in mind that a larva cannot turn into a butterfly immediately it needs time to process.
- Perseverance: try hard and try harder, I know it’s difficult when you take exams and get a low score. You just need to set a time for you to study or make a schedule. Make time for yourself to socialize with other French speakers and speak to them only in French. As I’ve said no matter how bad your accent is or how bad your grammar is the essential part is trying and learning from your mistakes.
With that in mind, I guess being in the country itself helped me a lot to fulfil my goal. If I wasn’t learning French in Belgium or another French-speaking country, I wouldn’t have learned that fast. Being surrounded by my people who speak only French makes you more motivated and inspired to learn faster so that you can communicate well with them.
I will conclude that learning a language is pretty hard. You need to allocate enough time and effort. As for French, I believe it’s one of the hardest languages to learn. It has a lot of rules and exemptions, and the accent and culture must also be taken into consideration. Most of the people who are trying to learn took many years to be able to speak and communicate well.
Work for it. Nothing is impossible just search the right tool for you which really works and go ahead and give 100 percent of your effort you will surely succeed.
About Alexine: I’m a Pinay (Filipino) geek traveller who loves anime, photography, roadtrips, city trips, music and a lot more. I speak English, Filipino, French, and some Spanish, Flemish dutch, and two other dialects from my homeland. My favourite place to travel is Asia and Europe.
Have you learned French in Belgium or in another country? Do you agree with Lexie’s methods? Share your thoughts in the comments below!