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Speaking The LanguageBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Luxembourg - Speaking The Language
Today, Luxembourg is home to a number of important European Union functions, and is the base for a thriving financial services industry, employing thousands of highly skilled staff. Major companies are attracted by the low tax base offered by a country which has fewer expenditure requirements for military and infrastructure projects compared to larger nations. However, the high cost of living there means many workers commute in each day from neighbouring countries.
As a result of its history, as well as current commercial and political importance, the use of language in Luxembourg is complicated. Luxembourg has three official languages: Luxembourgish, French and German, all of which have different uses.
Most people who have been born and brought up in Luxembourg will speak what the English call Luxembourgish. The native term is Lëtzebuergesch, whilst in German it is known as Luxemburgisch, and Luxembourgeois in French. It is a variant of German, but with important differences that mean Germans would have difficulty understanding some of it.
A 2013 study found that about 70 percent of the national population speaks Luxembourgish at home, work or school, although this varies by region. Most pre-school children and staff will use Luxembourgish as the primary language of communication. People will use it as their primary language on the street. Cashpoints and some supermarket signs will communicate with customers in written Luxembourgish.
However, official written procedures, such as application forms, will never be issued or accepted in Luxembourgish. Local people are proud of their language, and it is the primary one offered by local language schools, but if you come to live in Luxembourg you will struggle if you only learn Luxembourgish. French and German are too integral to the country for them to be ignored.
Once children start primary school in Luxembourg, they are taught in German. Most newspapers are printed in German, as are official sources of information for the public such as local council leaflets.
French is the written language for official processes. It is taught in almost all schools, from second grade onwards as an additional language. Whilst it is used for matters of high office such as parliamentary documents and bills, you will also find a lot of street names, menus, tickets and adverts are in French.
Younger people tend to speak more languages to a good level. Retired people are more likely to speak Luxembourgish with only a basic grasp or French or German. This may reflect location, as the countryside has an older population, and younger people are drawn to cities where they will work in a multinational workforce.
A number of strange anomalies exist. For example, debates in Parliament will be conducted in Luxembourgish, while the written questions are submitted in French. In order to receive citizenship of Luxembourg, you must take the Luxembourgish language test, but the nationality application forms will be completed in French. Despite being official languages of the country, French and German may not be taken as alternatives to Luxembourgish if you wish to become a citizen. Some institutions will reject applicants from degree courses and similar academic studies if they do not speak French.
After the three official languages, which local people happily use depending on the circumstances, English and Portuguese are the next most commonly spoken languages. English is taught in schools, and the significant number of English speaking expats working in Luxembourg City means the language is widely understood there. However, English cannot be relied upon if you want to settle long term in Luxembourg and integrate well into your new community.
Italian, Danish, Polish, Chinese, Dutch and Indian languages are some of the other tongues spoken by smaller communities in Luxembourg.
The majority of expats living in Luxembourg speak more than one language, with about one third of them having some ability to speak Luxembourgish.
There are a number of options available to anyone wishing to learn Luxembourgish. Classes at private language schools offer choice over location, timing and difficulty level. Private tutors are easily found, and there is a variety of online resources. Unusually, all language teaching, even in class, tends to rely on the written form, even though the language is predominantly a spoken one.
Whilst newsstands in city centres will offer a range of imported English language newspapers and magazines, the internet offers a wide range of sites which communicate news and views about Luxembourg to their English-speaking audience.
The Luxemburger Wort is a German language newspaper which also has an English language online edition. It covers politics, business, sport and community.
The Luxembourg City Magazine is a good source of information about cultural events and news connected to the running and development of the city. For a business take on the city, try the magazine Delano. The Chronicle offers an array of local news to entertain readers.
For those looking for specific streams of news, try EIN Newsdesk. You can view the news from thousands of sources, arranged by the subject.
Many newspapers from your home country will also allow access to their sites, though some may construct paywalls around premium sections.
Satellite television services are widely available, so you can watch television programmes, news and films in English. Some broadcasters offer free streaming of content, but note that the BBC has location blocks on anyone attempting to stream content from the BBCiPlayer from abroad. This is because the BBC is funded by UK license fee payers, with no subscriptions for overseas viewers available.
If you live in a city, especially Luxembourg City, you will find screenings of films in English across a number of cinemas.
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