Here’s a situation that you might actually encounter in Luxembourg: you might interrupt a conversation in Luxembourgish to order your croissant in French, just to find out the barista is actually English. Switching between languages is an art in which Luxembourgers excel, taking an idea from one language and an expression from another at will. What might seem to you like a language jungle has actually helped shape an open society, a dynamic economy and Luxembourg’s strong European commitment.
Multilingualism as a vector of cohesion
Growing up with a host of languages is normal for every child living in Luxembourg. Students learn German, French and English at school as mandatory languages and have the choice of learning other languages as well. Moreover, children encounter many other languages as part of their daily lives, through friends with different backgrounds and taking part in society in general.
Luxembourgish, French , German, English and Portuguese are among the most popular languages, but Italian, Spanish, Polish, Swedish, Finnish, Romanian and many other languages enrich the country’s society every day.
This showcases Luxembourg as a country whose society is open to many different cultures and nationalities and incorporates this multiculturalism like few other societies do.
Indeed, Luxembourg’s resolute multilingualism has enabled not only to integrate many immigrants during the last 150 years, but it also serves as a vector of social cohesion. In speaking such a large array of languages, many Luxembourgers and foreign nationals living in Luxembourg can easily communicate, reducing the danger of social exclusion based on language.
Contrary to what you might believe, the Luxembourgish has actually benefited from this multilingual environment. Indeed, the number of Luxembourgish classes is at an all time high and through social media, the language is being used more than ever.
Languages as an economic factor
Multilingualism is also a prominent feature of Luxembourg’ s economy, and has enabled the country to grow over the decades, from an agricultural society in the 1800s, to an internationally renowned financial and research and development hub in the 21st century.
Companies from all over the world have established their global or European headquarters in Luxembourg, enriching Luxembourg’s already multicultural society with Indian, English, American and many other expat communities.
This multilingual environment might be a challenge at first, but many employers encourage employees to learn new languages, an investment which presents an opportunity in the long term.
Languages bridge the divides between nations
On the global political stage, mastery of two, if not three major European languages – German, French and English – has allowed the Grand Duchy to be at the forefront of the European construction process. There is the example of Robert Schuman, Luxembourg-born French Foreign Minister who is also known as the ‘father of Europe’: he considered that his upbringing in Luxembourg and his multinational background contributed greatly to his post-war commitment towards a united Europe.
As a proof of its commitment, three former Luxembourg Prime Ministers have been presidents of the European Commission: Gaston Thorn (1981-1985), Jacques Santer (1995-1999), and Jean-Claude Juncker (2014-2019).
Today, Luxembourg is the third European capital – with Brussels and Strasbourg. It has the honour of hosting many of the European Union’s important institutions, which underlines the country’s international outlook. Most tellingly perhaps, the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union and the Publications Office of the European Union are located in Luxembourg.