Workshops allowed participants to learn more about the challenges of studying and working abroad. Studying in France or at a UK or US university all came under scrutiny, while an expert from the Flemish employment agency VDAB was also on hand to tell you what to watch out for when you work abroad.
Flemish lawmaker Elisabeth Meuleman and Guy Aelterman, the chief of staff of Flemish Education Minister Pascal Smet, were only two of the participants in an interesting round-table discussion on the language preparedness of Flemish students.
Education First that hosted the Language Fair is a commercial organisation with 50 years of experience and 41 schools worldwide. Each year between 2,000 and 3,000 people in Belgium make use of EF to go abroad and study a foreign language. In Belgium EF works with the Language 4 Results school in Antwerp where Dutch courses are taught. The company offers courses both for school children and for adults.
EF's Thibaut Hardelay told us that Belgians usually have good language skills, but do need to be better than other nationalities: "In Belgium good knowledge of Dutch and French are often required in order to land a job. Often English is also needed."
Language skills also have an impact on what you will earn. Research undertaken by Leuven University shows that knowing French can earn you 3.61% more. Dutch only boosts your income by 1.65% on average, while for English and Chinese the figures are 6.65% and 7.09%. That a lot of work still needs to be done emerges from figures from the Belgian Economy Ministry that show that 4 out of 10 Belgians only speak their mother tongue.
Each year EF draws up an English Proficiency Index. Last year Belgium featured on 13th place in a league table topped by Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. The organisation is currently also testing Belgian schools and plans to publish a ranking within the next eight months. Dutch-speakers can also test their knowledge of English, French, German, Italian and Spanish online by going to ef.com.