For ex-pats moving to Brussels long-term, it is highly recommended to learn at least one of the local languages. The official languages in Belgium are Dutch (Flemish), French and German. In Brussels, although not in the Flemish area of Belgium, French is the more common language of choice, though many people speak Dutch as well, and/or English as well as a minority who speak German.
The civil servants are generally very good in Brussels and most of them do speak English, though may sometimes be reluctant to do so. A little knowledge of either French or Dutch can often go a long way to more enthusiastic assistance as it shows you are trying to learn the local languages. In general, in everyday dealings in the city, English will usually suffice as Brussels is an international city. In addition to civil servants, restaurant and bar staff, and shop attendants usually have at least some knowledge of English. However, part of moving to a country is learning the languages and the culture and there is so much in the city and the country that is unlocked by knowledge of the local languages. For expats not willing to learn the languages, there is ample opportunity to just stick to English as there is a large English-speaking community.
For English speakers, basic Flemish may be a little easier to learn as it is more similar to English than French, though as you go deeper it becomes more difficult and suddenly French is easier to understand and pick up. There are many public and private language schools in the city that offer language courses. To be genuinely fluent in either French or Flemish, it will take at least a couple of years, but to be functionally literate on a day-to-day basis can be conclusively achieved well within a year without too much effort. Most universities in the city will offer courses in French and Dutch.
- One of the more renowned programs is offered at the Catholic University of Leuven, a half-hour from central Brussels.
- Alliance Francaise http://www.alliancefr.be/site/objects/article/0/0/2/0/0/0020081_article/media0023170_media_1.pdfis a useful resource as well, offering French courses at different levels and speeds. Lessons begin for around 100€.
- Another very good language school is Berlitz. Berlitz http://www.berlitz.be/en/offers many different languages classes and is very popular.
Under some visas, in particular Residence visas, Belgium mandates level 1 Dutch or French classes as part of its policy to help foreigners better integrate. There is a push to introduce a mandatory Dutch, French or German test for people wishing to apply for Belgian citizenship so in the event you may wish to stay in Belgium it would be advisable to learn one of the local languages. Information on these can be obtained from the municipality when you register upon your arrival. (See our Registration section for more information).