Language attitude

Last Sunday, 35.000 mainly French speaking people demonstrated in Brussels for a united Belgium. One thing I would like to know is if these people would agree to live and work for a truly mutual understanding. Actually, what I do not understand is how Belgium managed to let one of its biggest advantages become one of it biggest problems: the languages.

If you consider that Belgium could be an example in Europe regarding multilingualism, attracting investment, tourists, and so on, it makes me afraid to see how much the people here fail to do so. What I’m trying to point out is that Belgium would have not only political but also social and economical advantages if only they had a decent education in language matters. This would basically mean that every citizen in this damn country has to learn French and Flemish. After this, English, German, Spanish or whatsoever could follow.

If you think a bit further, then you realise that French is an excellent basic to learn other Latin languages from, while Flemish is helpful for German and the Scandinavian languages. As already mentioned before, the Flemish do quite an effort to learn French. But the Wallonians, for a big part, just ignore Flemish deliberately*. They adopt this kind of French (franco-français) attitude towards language which is basically resumed in the sentence: “De toute façon, on est nul en langue”* “We are bad in languages anyway”as if it were a genetic problem.

Not only that this is stupid surrendering without even trying but it reinforces the distrust between the different linguistic communities. What could (and should) be done (in my point of view) is to make a general linguistic education, of let’s say 6 years compulsory during which the language of the other community has to be taught  – especially Flemish in Wallonia. Within ten years, 15 years from now, Belgium could have a bilingual population instead of two parts not understanding but deeply disliking each other. Perhaps I’m too idealistic but if the Wallonians and the Flemish really want to live in an one and united Belgium, they will have to make an effort going beyond demonstrations on a sunny Sunday.  

* Disclaimer: I am generalizing. I met more than one French and more than one Wallonian who do not at all agree with this attitude and blame their compatriots for it. But it is dreadfully common. Of course the whole language discussion is just one of the many issues but in an Europe laboring for unification through encouraging cultural diversity it is ridiculous how much space this aspect takes.


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