Sponsored content by ING Luxembourg • Insights •Expat Corner• 11.07.2019
(Photo : ING Luxembourg)
This is the question raised by many foreigners and expats who come to work for the first time in Luxembourg. The answer is not obvious. Multilingualism is so present in the country that it is sometimes difficult to know which language you have to speak and in which situation.
A sociodemographic, legal and educational multilingualism
Multilingualism in the Grand Duchy is due in large part to its sociodemographic characteristics. On 1 January 2019, Luxembourg has 613 894 inhabitants, nearly half of them (291 464 as of 1 January 2019) are foreigners, speaking their native language in their family and community. Only 3 residents on 10 live in a multilingual household. Portuguese (95 516), French (46 938), Italians (22 465) and Belgians (19 953) represent more than 60% of the foreigners living in the Grand Duchy. On top of this, around 190 000 German, Belgian and French employees cross the border every working day. All in all, more than 170 different nationalities are living together within a small territory of 2 586.4 km2.
Multilingualism is also written into the Luxembourgish law. Since the law of 24 February 1984 about language policy, the country has a national language – Luxembourgish – and three administrative and judicial languages – Luxembourgish, French and German. The legislative documents are written in French and the government and the administration use the three languages. If a citizen asks a question in Luxembourg, French or German, the administration must answer in the language used by the citizen. The three languages are also learned at school: Luxembourgish in kindergarten, German in the first year of primary school and French in the second year.
A prevailing language according to regions and jobs
There is no one prevailing language in Luxembourg. It depends on the geographical areas. In the North and the East, the majority of the population speaks Luxembourgish and German. In the central and southern parts, where the population density is the highest, French and Luxembourgish are the most used languages. To a lesser extent, Portuguese is also spoken because of a strong Portuguese community in municipalities like Esch-sur-Alzette or Differdange. In Luxembourg City, where the population is composed of 160 nationalities and in vast majority foreign-born (70.8% in 2019), English is used as much as French.
The languages used also depend on the jobs. According to a survey conducted in 2018 by the Statec, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of the Grand Duchy, French is the language used by most people at work (78%) followed by English (51%) and Luxembourgish (48%). French is the most used language in almost all sectors. Luxembourgish is first spoken in public administration, education and social services and is the second most used language in health, industry, trade, housing and food industry. English is the business and finance language and the lingua franca of the large international community working in the European institutions. Even if German is only the fourth most used language at work, it still occupies an important place in public administration, industry and trade (more than 40%). Portuguese is the second most used language after French in the building sector (58%).
A minimum of respect and courtesy
Faced with this profusion of situations, you still have the same question: do I have to speak Luxembourgish? The answer is yes, even if you don’t use it in your daily life, out of respect for the country where you live now. It also can be useful to get friends, a job in public administration or new clients if you are a manager or a self-employed person. Last but not least, the knowledge of the Luxembourgish language is one of the main conditions to obtain Luxembourgish nationality.
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