Thank you Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland for your Multilingualism

The other main countries in Europe that speak French are Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland; however, they do not just have French as an official language. Belgium also has Dutch and German; Luxembourg has German and Luxembourgish; and Switzerland has German, Italian, and Romansh. What that means for language lovers is that certain websites have multiple translations and you can use one language to learn another as well as learn about the culture of the country at the same time.

If you like art, the Museum of Modern Art Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM)’s website is in French and German.  Maybe you’d like to know train vocabulary in German, French and Italian. Try Switzerland’s official rail company. Need to learn words for various food and grocery items so you know what to ask for at the store? Auchandrive.fr is available in French and Dutch thanks to Belgium. (Just choose a store that is on the border, such as Leers.) Then just use two browsers and put the windows side by side to compare the vocabulary.

Of course there are many other websites that provide translations into other languages, such as Wikipedia, but the content isn’t always the same so it’s much harder to compare. Another reason to use websites based in multilingual countries is so you can be sure (well, almost) that the translations are correct. Multilingual countries make much more of an effort to ensure quality translations by hiring professional translators – and not using computer translations – so that all of their citizens can have access to information in their native language(s).

Even though France is a monolingual country, a lot of resources are translated into English for tourists, but I’ve come across too many French websites with English translations that were obviously copied from Google Translate. The official tourism website, france.fr, does offer translations in four languages and even though I haven’t seen any mistakes in the English translations so far, the content is not exactly the same or even in the same place on each version so it’s difficult to compare and use it properly as a learning tool.

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  • Amber

    Cool idea, but I have to mention, since I live all of two seconds away from the border, that there are a lot of differences between Flemish and Dutch, and neither like to be confused with the other.
    As great as Belgian multilingualism is (this is the only one I can comment on, no clue about the other countries) when you are in Wallonie, everything is in French. When you are in Flanders, everything is in Flemish. Flemish people are downright rude if they think you are Wallon. The Flemish speak English better than they do French, and the Wallons don’t speak anything but Belgian French. My favorite Belgian radio station, Studio Brussels, often mentions concerts and events. When I go to the website to try and get more information, it’s impossible — they don’t offer the site in anything but Flemish (last I checked.. it has been a few months), and I think that is a shame.

  • Anna

    A friend of mine who worked the Thalys route from Paris to Brussels told me all about this – that his Flemish and Wallon colleagues wouldn’t talk directly to each other. And how even some businesses have strict policies not to talk in the other language, even if it’s say French with a French person and not a Wallon.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Fantastic little hack, I love it!

  • http://cultursation.blogspot.com Margaret

    Oh my gosh! I had no idea is was as bad as that in Belgium. That’s crazy! How did it get to that?

  • http://dgryski.blogspot.com Damian Gryski

    There more I hear about the language situation in Belgium, the more it reminds me of the problems in Montreal between English and French speakers. I think Montreal has mellowed mostly since the Quiet Revolution (1960s), but recently it sounds like the fight in Belgium is just heating up. :(

  • http://www.gwannelsandiego.blogspot.com Gwan

    I have to add French keywords to stuff in my job, often very technical stuff that I don’t necessarily understand all that well in English, so I often look it up in English Wikipedia and then see if there’s a French translation. You can then check up by Googling or whatever to make sure that the term really is used if you have your doubts.

    And yeah, I used to live next to Belgium & went over for work about once a fortnight. After the first time I asked for something in French in a cafe and was just totally ignored, I learned to speak English to them.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I love the EU website. It’s so much nerdy fun playing with all the languages. :)

    I use Euronews a lot too to listen to other languages, but I don’t like how the “transcript” of each video is never exact and the translations aren’t close enough to be able to compare the languages.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Yeah the language situation in Belgium is quite sad. I mean, each area of Switzerland usually just uses their own language, but they make more of an effort to learn and use the others as well. Plus the Swiss govt. is awesome about making sure everything official is translated. Belgium is almost like a bitter divorce that hasn’t been finalized yet.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I was just using multilingual instead of bilingual countries (two languages will never be enough for me!), but yes Canada is great for translations of English and French. They have a lot of information on their official sites, and the content is in the same location for easy comparison. In conclusion, Canada is awesome. :)

  • http://www.meubles-cuisine.net/cuisine-equipee.php cuisine équipée

    Switzerland is a model of multiculturalism

  • http://www.meubles-cuisine.net/cuisine-equipee.php cuisine équipée

    Switzerland is a model of multiculturalism

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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