What you should know about Flemish before doing business in Belgium

The new Port House, Antwerp Port Authority's Head Office

The new Port House, Antwerp Port Authority’s Head Office

It is widely known that Belgium is a great country for business: a strategic location, a great logistical infrastructure, a skilled workforce and an ideal test market for new projects and products. And while the high level of language skills will be useful for businesses that want to enter this market, the only way to attract customers is to have your materials translated into the local languages. After all 75% of potential clients want to see your products in their native language, according to a Common Sense Advisory Study. In Belgium that means Dutch (spoken by approximately 60% of the population, based in Flanders), French (approximately 40%, based in Wallonia) and German (approximately 1%, based near the German border).  That’s right, Flemish is not in the list. How come?

Languages per region in Belgium

Languages per region in Belgium

Flemish = Belgian Dutch

The answer is simple: Flemish is not the official name of the language, it is a common term for Belgian Dutch. Belgian Dutch is one of the two main variants of Dutch, the other being Dutch for The Netherlands. The difference between these two is similar to the difference between American English and British English: while we easily understand each other, we can tell immediately if a text is one variant or the other.  We use the same dictionaries and share the same language resources, but we have different accents and we use different styles, different terms etc. And it is not only a question of linguistic differences, but also of cultural differences. The Dutch are more direct, while in Belgium people prefer to be more reserved and polite. And that is essential for the tone of voice of your materials if you want to reach out to new clients – even a basic decision such as whether to use the formal or the informal form of the personal pronoun “you” may well differ per country.

Should you use Belgian Dutch to target the Flemish market?

The next question is of course: should you use Belgian Dutch to target the Flemish market? The answer is in the first paragraph of this article: “75% of potential clients want to see your products in their native language”. That means that any materials meant to attract customers or to appeal to readers should be in Belgian Dutch. Marketing materials, brochures, social media messages, TV commercials… More neutral materials such as instructions, manuals etc. are mostly translated into one and the same “Dutch” – i.e. in a neutral language in which more colloquial expressions and typical terms for either variant are avoided. Belgian Dutch translators are ideal for such translations as well, since they are more aware of the differences between both variants (but that is between us, don’t tell the Dutch I said so).

Do you want to know more? Do you need translations into Belgian Dutch or the neutral form of Dutch for your business or may you need them at a later stage? Do not hesitate to contact me or visit my website or my LinkedIn profile and connect so that you have my details at hand when you need them. (And in case you are wondering: in spite of the message I want to convey in this article I do say I am a Dutch and Flemish translator, in order to be found by people who have not read this article yet and use ‘Flemish’ as a search term.)

I look forward to helping you enter the Belgian market!

(c) Els Hoefman – InDutch