You’ve just arrived in the Grand Duchy and you’re already flummoxed by the what, why and when of the languages:
- German got you a ticket on a bus but a blank look in a clothes shop
- English got you an account in a bank but absolutely nowhere with setting up your Internet connection
- You got top marks in school for French but you’re drowning in a sea of unfamiliar accents and machine-gun delivery
Never fear — here’s an introduction to the whys and hows of being understood in the Grand Duchy.
In a Nutshell
Luxembourgish, French and German are the official languages of Luxembourg.
- Luxembourgish is a Germanic language and is mainly spoken by the native population
- German tends to be the second language and widely used in local schools
- French is the official written language of the country and is spoken by the many French and Belgian cross-border workers
- Portuguese is also widely spoken as they are the largest minority group in Luxembourg
- With a large foreign population, English is often a safe bet and is especially popular with younger people
Luxembourgish tends to be spoken by civil servants such as post office clerks, bus drivers and staff in government departments. You’ll also hear it in local bakeries, newsagents and butcher shops.
It’s possible to get by with German, French and even English as Luxembourgers speak those languages too, but it’s always handy to have a few Luxembourgish phrases on hand. Your efforts can help untangle some of the red tape and speed up any requests. The written form was only officially standardised in 1975 and isn’t written as much as French and German.
French and German
In the cities, you’ll need some French in most restaurants, clothes shops and supermarkets. A high number of service and retail employees are from border towns in French and Belgium.
If you can read French, you’ll have a welcome advantage as many contracts, legal documents and forms are written in French.
German is more common outside of the city, especially in the towns near the German border. Most of the national media like the Wort newspaper and radio stations are in German.
You could do worse than to learn some French and German before you move over.
If you are eager to learn Luxembourgish before your move, you can take Skype lessons through Learn Luxembourgish.
Once you’re here you can take one of the many language classes available. The INL‘s reasonable courses are especially popular. Or your employer may offer free classes to their staff.
Download Google Translate on your phone in case you get stuck. Either type or speak into the phone and it’ll translate on the fly.
Take advantage of your commute to practice your French absolutely gratis by reading the free newspaper l’essentiel.
Tips on Making Yourself Understood
You’re bound to have a few panicky moments when your plumber can only speak French, or your German is just getting you stonewall stares.
Just take a deep breath, swallow your pride and act out what you want! It might not be the most dignified way of making yourself understood. But chances are, the person you’re dealing with has been in the same position themselves.
You may encounter an official in your commune who speaks English but doesn’t seem to understand your requests. Believe it or not, in Luxembourg it is possible to ask the wrong question — just try rephrasing your question or explaining the reason why you are asking.
Perhaps you’re having a problem with your mobile phone but no-one in their call centre speaks English. Instead, try emailing or visiting one of their stores. Google Translate is a decent way to get some French or German vocabulary together. Chances are someone will have enough English to fill in the blanks.
Whatever happens, remember these tips and you’ll get by in Luxembourg just fine:
- Think ahead
- Don’t forget your smile and your sense of humour
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
- Keep trying!
Originally published at yvonnereilly.com on September 5, 2018.