Belgium is a small northern European country that packs a mighty punch on the world stage. Its capital city Brussels is a cultural melting pot that achieved international fame in 1992 as the HQ of the European Union. Dutch, French and German are spoken in this ever-changing city crammed with medieval and Art Nouveau architecture, enticing art galleries and museums, and with a gastronomy second to none.
However, Belgium is much more than its capital city. From the UNESCO-listed Gothic delights of picture-perfect Bruges to the urban cool of Antwerp and the party vibe of buzzing Ghent, this country has much to offer international students.
It’s small, sophisticated, and has an efficient transport system. It’s next door to The Netherlands, Germany, and France at the very heart of Europe, so it’s a springboard to adventures in dozens of diverse countries. And most people speak English in Belgium too, so you won’t feel isolated there in the first awkward days of learning Dutch in Belgium.
Despite its small size, Belgium is a country divided culturally and linguistically. French is largely spoken in the south, in an area known as Wallonia, and German by a small percentage of the population in the east of the country. As Dutch is mainly spoken in the Flemish north of Belgium—known as Flanders—most Dutch-language courses are found in cities including Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges.
There are plenty of course options on offer in Belgium, so there’s bound to be one that suits your lifestyle and budget.
- If you arrive in Belgium as a non-Dutch speaker, there are options for studying the language in day or evening classes in every major city.
- Intensive and total immersion is regarded as one of the quickest and most effective ways to learn a language; Dutch immersion courses are available in Belgium that last between one and four months. These courses have several advantages: you’ll be with students of a similar expertise level as you, you’ll certainly learn fast, and certain programs will help with your travel arrangements and accommodation.
- Living with a host family is another way to learn Dutch quickly and by total immersion into the local culture. Some programs also offer students the chance to learn with a Dutch-speaking private tutor; on these courses a number of tuition hours are provided alongside accommodation and food.
- As six million people speak Dutch in northern Belgium, the universities all offer degree courses taught in Dutch. A level of fluency in the language is a prerequisite of these courses, and as an overseas student, you’ll be tested for proficiency before acceptance.
- Volunteering is a further option for learning Dutch in Belgium; as seat of the EU and NATO, Brussels in particular is always looking for talented individuals to volunteer in its international organizations as well as in social services.
Why Learn Dutch Abroad
In the age of the Internet, it is all-too-easy easy to learn a language parrot-fashion online. However, choosing to travel overseas to Belgium to learn Dutch will allow you a thorough immersion in Belgian culture. You’ll learn about the country, visit its cities, taste its acclaimed food, experience the culture and -- most important of all -- meet the people. While staying in Belgium, you’ll make local friends who'll help your language skills progress in leaps and bounds, and with total immersion, your accent will improve too.
An added advantage of studying Dutch in Belgium is that nearly everybody speaks some English, so you can ease yourself into your new country and its languages gradually.
Some advanced Dutch-language learning courses in Belgium require you to have a prior knowledge of the language, but there are many other options for all levels of experience, from total beginner to expert.
Planning Your Trip
Popular Locations to Learn Dutch in Belgium
Belgium is a multilingual country, counting Dutch, French, and German as its official languages. English is also widely spoken throughout this cosmopolitan country and many courses at its prestigious universities are taught in English. It is the home to the European Union Headquarters and as a result, many international language schools are found throughout Belgium, with the majority in multi-cultural Brussels.
- Antwerp: With a cool clubbing scene, sophisticated Antwerp is a center of fashion design and diamond trading.
- Bruges: The pocket-book-sized Gothic heart of Flanders; there’s nowhere more romantic to study in Belgium.
- Brussels: Belgium’s multicultural capital city is also multilingual in French and Dutch. It’s a transport hub, with easy access to other Belgian cities, Amsterdam, and Paris.
- Ghent: A buzzing university town, Ghent offers a mix of stately Gothic architecture and fine museums with a jumping nightlife.
- Hasselt: Home of one of the leading universities in Belgium, Hasselt has a pedestrianized medieval center and a relaxed vibe.
- Leuven: Known for its number of breweries and its incomparable medieval architecture, Leuven also has a prestigious university.
Choosing a Dutch Learning Program in Belgium
These days it’s a huge plus point on your resumé if you speak another language, so once you’ve decided to learn Dutch in Belgium, here are a few pointers to help you choose your program.
Broadly speaking, it’s less expensive to learn Dutch in Belgium in a classroom or group setting, as opposed to being taught by a private tutor. Staying with a host family also helps to save money, in exchange for immersion in the Dutch language pretty much 24/7.
Start by drawing up a list of what you want to achieve with your language program. What fluency level are you looking for? How will this help with your future career, if that's part of your goals?
Decide where you’d like to study; for example, do you want to live in the cosmopolitan capital or a buzzing university city? Work out expenses and check that your course is within your financial remit. Be sure of exactly what is included in the study-abroad program costs. Do they include flights, accommodation, food, and transport? Remember that most courses—and your accommodation—will be cheaper outside Brussels.
Look at the accreditations of your chosen language course. Read the curriculum carefully. What is the class size? Does it provide the challenge and proficiency level you need? Is there a well-balanced curriculum covering all aspects of learning Dutch?
Make sure that the course gives plenty of chances for you to read, write, and practice speaking Dutch, and that your pronunciation will be corrected and your confidence encouraged. Ask for personal recommendations, do online research, and speak to the course directors to ensure you’re applying for the right program.
Cultural Immersion in Belgium
Multilingual Belgium has a population of around 10 million, divided into three, culturally distinct, quasi-self-ruling regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital. Life in Belgium is expensive but the country enjoys a high standard of living. It has an excellent educational system and health service, although it’s mandatory to have health insurance when living there.
Belgian society is both sophisticated and family orientated. Whether your time there is long or short, you’ll soon experience the country’s particular brand of joie de vivre. Spend time in any Belgian home and you’ll be introduced to their fabulous cuisine, famous for waffles, moules-frites, divine chocolate, and more than 1,000 different beers.
Cultural immersion in Belgium also involves exploring its towns and cities, admiring grandiose medieval architecture, and losing yourself in the spectacular art museums of Brussels. Each year brings celebrations galore -- from Lenten carnivals to rock festivals -- and outdoor lovers can hike in the Ardennes forests, visit the Flanders battlefields, or cycle the sweep of dunes at De Haan on the North Sea coastline.
Costs & Funding
Average Dutch Language School Tuition in Belgium
Attending a Dutch language school in Belgium will vary depending on where you go, length of course and what method of instruction chosen. Outside Brussels, tuition fees may be cheaper and accommodation certainly will be.
If you sign up for a year’s language course at one of Belgium’s universities, you can expect to pay anything from US$500 up to US$4,900 per annum, depending on locality. At the other end of the scale, one-week Dutch-speaking courses, with around 20 hours of tuition, are priced at around US$295, while a total immersion course at a prestigious language school -- 60 hours per week for six weeks -- works out at around US$2,400.
Scholarships for Learning Dutch in Belgium
The Flemish Government in Belgium has agreements with several countries to encourage the study of Dutch in Flanders by providing scholarships to young people. You’re best to contact your Belgian Embassy for more details. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Flemish Interuniversity Council offer a number of scholarships to overseas students as well. The EU sponsored Erasmus Mundus also can help with financial support.
Cost of Living in Belgium
You’ll quickly learn that Belgium is not a budget destination, and thanks to the presence of the EU HQ, Brussels is a very expensive city, even by western European standards. Expect to pay a monthly rent of around US$1,125, while eating out in the major cities is also costly. However, quality fresh produce bought from local markets and the low cost of decent wine and beer will bring a smile back to your face!
Visas & Other Relevant Information
As a US student, you’ll not need a visa to study in Belgium for up to 90 days. You will, however, need a residence permit, which means you’ll need to go to your nearest municipal offices within eight days of your arrival in Belgium. There you’ll be registered on the Aliens Register and be issued with the permit; this also allows you to visit the other 26 Schengen countries without a visa.
If your stay lasts longer than three months, you’ll need to apply for the renewal of your residence permit at least one month prior to its expiry date. This renewal is issued by the Aliens Office on production of your current permit.
If you are traveling to Belgium from a country that does require a visa, you will need two copies of all mandatory paperwork, including:
- A passport valid for more than 12 months after your stay,
- Proof of qualification at higher secondary education level,
- Proof of enrolment at an approved university or educational institution,
- Proof of sufficient income to live in Belgium without needing income support during your stay, and,
- Comprehensive health cover plus a medical certificate to prove you have no infectious diseases.
Your chosen language program should be able to help with the processing of all documents and visas.