Understanding foreign language education and bilingual education in Belgium: a (surreal) piece of cake

Laurence Mettewie, Luk Van Mensel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of the present article is to provide an overview of the current state of affairs regarding foreign language education and bilingual education in the different parts of Belgium. In a brief historical contextualisation, we explain how language education in Belgium has been shaped by the country’s political and economic history, which has led to legal constraints concerning the language(s) of instruction as well as foreign language education. A paradoxical situation has now emerged: on the one hand, an apparently straightforward organisation of language education according to a ‘one community–one language’ principle; on the other hand, a complex and heterogeneous reality with respect to the organisation of the school system in general and language education in particular. We illustrate the present situation with figures from the different language communities (Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking) on (a) foreign languages learned at school in regular settings, and (b) alternatives to the regular framework that bypass the constrictive legislation, such as CLIL. The data reveal the intricate make-up of language education in Belgium, reflecting a tailor-made approach taken by each of the three official language communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-657
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Issue number5
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Belgium
  • bilingual education
  • CLIL
  • Dutch
  • English/EFL
  • foreign language education


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