10 questions - 3. Which language is taught at school?

3. Which language is taught at school?

The teaching language is the official language of the area where the school is located. Except for the language subjects, all other subjects must be taught in that language. In Brussels, you can choose between Dutch- and French-language education. There are a few exceptions in the municipalities with facilities. In higher education, a growing number of subjects are taught in English.

'The language coincides with the different language areas.'


The principle is simple. It is laid down by law in which language the general subjects are to be taught in nursery (2,5-6 years), primary (6-12 years) and secondary education (12-18 years). The language coincides with the different language areas. In practical terms this means that Dutch is the teaching language in Flanders. French lessons may be given in French, English lessons in English, but general subjects like mathematics, biology or geography must be taught in Dutch. In Wallonia, the official teaching language is French whereas in Brussels this is either Dutch or French, depending on the school.

This rule of teaching in the language of the area applies to all the schools of the official network (which are organised by the authorities themselves) and to the schools of the privately run network (schools that are recognised or subsidised by the authorities). Private schools do not have to comply with this language rule and can teach in the language of their choice.

There are a number of exceptions to the language rules for education.

  • For a number of years a pilot project has been running in nine secondary schools in Flanders, allowing general subjects to also be taught in another language.
  • Wallonia has immersion schools. At these schools, some general subjects are taught in Dutch. The idea is to improve the pupils’ knowledge of the other national language.
  • In a few big cities, including Brussels, quite a large number of children of foreign origin attend Dutch-language education. At home they sometimes only speak their mother tongue, as a result of which they know too little Dutch to be able to follow the lessons to a sufficient extent. In order to facilitate their integration, some schools organise language support initiatives in close cooperation with the Flemish authorities.
  • The international schools are not bound by the language rules for education.


There is no bilingual education in Brussels. Schools teach either in Dutch or in French. People living in Brussels can choose. Even people who do not speak Dutch at home can attend Dutch-language schools. Many Dutch-language schools in Brussels attract children from families where one or both parents do not speak Dutch. In order to make sure that everyone can follow the lessons in Dutch, additional assistance is often provided to foreign speaking pupils.


In the six municipalities with facilities around Brussels (and in Ronse) schools must in principle teach in the Dutch language. However, in keeping with specified conditions these municipalities organise French-language nursery and primary schools for French-speaking children from the municipality. Dutch-speaking children from the municipality are not allowed to attend these French-speaking schools. Neither are French-speaking children from other municipalities without facilities. These schools are subsidised by the Flemish authorities, who ensure that intensive Dutch courses are taught at these schools. This exception does not apply to secondary schools. In the municipalities with facilities secondary education can only take place in Dutch. Pupils who do not want to attend secondary education in the language of the area usually go to a French-language school in the Brussels-Capital Region or in the Walloon Region.


This rule has become less strict in higher education in Flanders. The use of Dutch in higher education is compulsory for bachelor’s and initial master’s programmes. Yet even in the bachelor’s and master’s programmes a growing number of subjects are taught in another language (mostly English). However, students are entitled to take their exams in Dutch for the subjects that are taught in a foreign language. Naturally, these restrictions do not apply to language subjects.