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The linguistic landscape of Luxembourg is certainly one of the most complex in the European Union and reflects the cultural diversity of its society. Languages have always been the strong point of this country, which has progressively moved from the juxtaposed bilingualism of yesteryear to the superimposed multilingualism of today. More and more languages are being spoken about in more and more varied places, by people who use different languages depending on the time of day and specific circumstances. Nonetheless, this apparent multilingualism is not evenly spread throughout the country or even the different components that make up society. The desire of the Government and citizens to promote the national language, and thereby defend an identity which they see as being threatened by the 40% of foreign nationals living in the country, could well end by damaging the two official languages – and particularly French, the general level of which has already deteriorated among young people. Moreover, the attraction of the English-speaking world and the temptation to promote English in the many areas where Luxembourg hopes to participate internationally could, over the decades to come, bring the status of French as the first language of international communication for the people of Luxembourg into question.

Legal framework

Article 1 of the law of 24 February 1984 states that Luxembourgish is the national language, while Article 2 specifies that French, German and Luxembourgish may all be used as administrative and judicial languages. As a result, French and German are designated as “official languages”.

Public life

In political life Luxembourgish, the national language, is today most commonly used in the Chamber of Deputies as a spoken language, with debates being transcribed with the questions in French and the responses in Luxembourgish – an excellent example of the linguistic complexity of the situation. Reports are written in the language used by the speaker, which is usually Luxembourgish. Although French remains the written language of State and administration, Luxembourgish is the language of communication and the workplace. However, within local authorities, German is often used instead of French in written language and remains the preferred language of communication.

Laws are written in French, and, in legal terms, “the French version shall be deemed to take precedence where a translation has been made”. This does not change the fact that the administration must, wherever possible, respond in the language used by the plantiff, which is frequently Luxembourgish. In the same way, at a tribunal, the judge may address the plaintiff in Luxembourgish if s/he comes from the Grand Duchy, and witnesses may also give evidence in the national language. In penal or civil processes, the prosecution, defence and trial all take place in French, and the trial documentation is written in French or German. After Luxembourg was called to order in 2006 by the European Commission for failing to respect the 1998 directive on appointing lawyers for member states, the Government adopted a law proposal at the end of 2006 to ensure the correct implementation of the legislation on lawyers working with EC law. As a result, the Council of the Order of Lawyers may no longer conduct oral interviews to verify a European lawyer’s competency in a language (in practice, Luxembourgish) before appointing them to the bar of the Order. European lawyers who are appointed to a Grand Duchy bar, and who also carry out legal duties for another country in the EU, are now also permitted to register companies.

Consumers and advertising

Advertisements may be produced in any of the three languages of the country, depending on the format used. French is still the dominant language, but Luxembourgish is becoming more popular. In all circumstances, advertisements may only be written in one or other of the languages of the country.

Press and audiovisual

Although there is no legislation in this area, the State provides financial support to promote the diversity of the independent press in Luxembourg where a publication is likely to be of interest to most of the population, being written mainly in Luxembourgish, French or German. Eleven press bodies currently receive financial support, of which three publish French language publications. Luxembourgish dominates the audiovisual world (70% of Luxembourgers watched national TV in 2005), while the radio is multilingual but often dominated by Luxembourgish. It enjoys the widest range of programmes and the strongest audience, while French and German (and sometimes Portuguese) share the written press. It should be noted that, over the last few years, the use of Luxembourgish in the daily press has increased dramatically: birth (+80%), death (+52%) and marriage (+80%) announcements are all usually in Luxembourgish. Finally, French is the language most commonly used on the Internet (48%), beating English, German (20%) and Luxembourgish (10%). On some sites the use of Luxembourgish is recommended (2006 survey by Luxweb).


A 2005 inquiry by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training revealed that the importance of the different languages used by businesses varies according to the sector of activity, region where the company is based and staffing structure. The growing number of border inhabitants – which reached 115,000 in 2005 and was made up mainly of French (52.3%), followed by Wallonians (26.9%) and Germans (19.4%) – has a strong influence on the use of languages in the job market with an increase of 80% in people using French. As a result, the use of different languages in the workplace has risen considerably, most noticeably for French and English. In terms of the sector of activity in question, French is gaining (on average) in the sectors “of construction and collective, social and personal services”, while English dominates the “financial” and “property and business service” sectors. German is gaining ground in the transport and communication sectors, but losing ground in the training sector. Finally, Luxembourgish is losing out to English in the financial sector but gaining ground in the “collective, social and personal services” and “health and social action” sectors. An increase, on average, in the use of Portuguese in the “training, health and social action” sectors, is also evident. In geographical terms, the use of German is on the increase in the east, Luxembourgish is gaining a little ground in the central area (city of Luxembourg and surrounding area), while the average increase in importance of English is highest in the central regions. 

The inquiry also reveals that the use of French remains very widespread in written and spoken communication (both external and internal) between executives and “intermediary” and administrative employees. Overall, it is overtaking German, Luxembourgish and English, which is still moderately used, by quite a lot. In contrast, the use of Portuguese is consistently increasing among manual workers, where French precedes German and Luxembourgish. Another revelation from the inquiry concerns the level of written and spoken competence in languages that graduates of the Luxembourg school system now working in the workplace consider that they have obtained. The written level is decidedly average, with only German being considered “at a good level”. Spoken language is considerably better, with French, German and Luxembourgish all being spoken “at a good level”. The level of English is considered average in both written and spoken language. The staffing structure within a business has a significant influence on the average level of competence in written and spoken language. The levels of French, German, Luxembourgish and English are all at their highest in businesses where most members of staff are employees or executives. In the investments sector, the tendency to use English as the working language is growing year on year.


The three languages of the country – Luxembourgish, French, German – are consistently present at all levels of the school system.

Luxembourg remains a crossroads of influence and migration: initially Italian and then later (and still today) Portuguese, with a tendency to diversify over the last few years towards migrants from Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The composition of the school population by nationality in 2005 reflects this linguistic and cultural mix very well. Out of a total number of 80,510 pupils, 62.76% were Luxembourg nationals (50,531), 19.68% Portuguese, 2.8% French, 2.78% Italian, 4.42% from the former Yugoslavia, 1.15% German and 0.66 % Cape Verdeans. In this country where multilingualism goes in one direction, the authorities today are seeking to understand it better in order to turn it into an advantage rather than a difficulty as pupils travel through the school system.

Nursery and primary school

Luxembourg pupils use Luxembourgish at nursery school. Luxembourgish is considered an auxiliary language as regards literacy for the first three semesters of primary school, but literacy is also taught in German. From the first year of primary school, German becomes the language of teaching (written and spoken), while French lessons are started in the second year. Oral teaching in French begins in the second semester of the second year of primary school, and written teaching the year after, but the rest of teaching remains in German.

Depending on the composition of the class, teachers speak German but often alternate with Luxembourgish and sometimes with French. In primary school, nearly 50% of teaching time is dedicated to language learning.

Secondary school

In the first years of secondary school, most subjects are taught in German, but History and Mathematics are taught in French. Lessons in English begin in the first year of classical or technical secondary schools. From the third year of secondary school, French becomes the language of teaching for all subjects other than languages in classical secondary schools, while German remains the dominant language in technical secondary schools. Finally, from the fourth year of secondary school, pupils at classical secondary schools can choose a fourth language, usually Italian, Spanish or Portuguese. Although Luxembourgish is not officially a language of teaching, the national language has been studied as a subject in its own right for the past fifty or so years at secondary level.

The need to master several languages does not make it easy for children of ex-patriates who have spent some years in the Grand Duchy to integrate into the education system. To cater for the needs of families who only envisage staying in the country for a short time, classes taught in French and English preparing for the International Baccalaureate have been available in Luxembourg since Autumn 2006 for French and Autumn 2007 for English. The law of 14 May 2002 also recognises that the International Baccalaureate is equivalent to the Luxembourgish qualification awarded at the end of secondary education. In addition, two French language establishments – nursery/primary and secondary/college - managed by the AEFE, offer teaching in French from nursery to the end of secondary education and prepare students for the French baccalaureate, while the European School teaches the children of European Union employees posted to Luxembourg in different streams: French, German, English, Spanish, Italian etc.

Towards a reform in language teaching

Luxembourgish officials recognise that the need to master several languages can constitute a sometimes insurmountable obstacle for many pupils in Luxembourg, whether they are a Luxembourger having difficulty with French, or a Romance language speaker struggling with German. Moreover, some believe that the amount of time devoted to learning languages is detrimental to the teaching of other fundamental subjects and may explain the poor results achieved by pupils in the Luxembourg school system, as reported in the two PISA inquiries in 2003 and 2005.

Starting from the basis of expert advice requested from the Council of Europe, who delivered their report in 2006, and the desire of the authorities to retain multilingual teaching, a reform was decided on. On 15 March 2007, the Ministry of National Education presented ‘The Action Plan for Readjusting Languages’. This action plan will be implemented in stages, beginning in Autumn 2007. Various measures are proposed to “unfetter the teaching of different disciplines and create bridges between languages and non-linguistic subjects to obtain a veritable transfer of knowledge, understanding and teaching strategies”, such as defining criteria for competence in modern languages at different levels (based on the Common European Reference Framework for Languages), developing language apprenticeships in non-linguistic branches and reflecting on the possibilities offered by bilingual communication. There are also a number of measures designed to improve the understanding of texts more generally, at all levels of the school system: offering advanced classes for motivated students and reinforcing the assistance on offer to those who have difficulty in reading.

Other actions are more specifically concerned with promoting languages: Luxembourgish (teaching Luxembourgish at nursery level, increasing the number of lessons in Luxembourgish), Portuguese (promoting Portuguese as the fourth foreign language at the higher levels of secondary school, certifications of competence in Portuguese, Portuguese training for teachers, promoting Portuguese literature), English (implementing an audiovisual broadcast designed as an introduction to English, introducing English in non-linguistic branches, introducing intensive English lessons) and Latin (introducing a Latin prize). The Government has also taken action to improve the mastery of languages in the transition into working life, manage the heterogeneity of the school population, promote excellence in languages and school, bring in new evaluation practices and launch a languages portfolio project.

Higher education

Although a university was opened in Luxembourg in 2003, it is not in a position to offer all disciplines and the public authorities decided to offer a limited number of courses in disciplines which were of particular interest for the country. In such a context, it remains absolutely paramount that students are mobile and can master a number of different languages.

One of the priorities of the new four-year university plan (2006-2009) is, as a result, to reinforce multilingualism by offering degree courses which require competence in the two or three languages of teaching (ideally all three) – French, German and English. A specific body will have responsibility for reinforcing the linguistic competencies of students and research lecturers, as well as administrative personnel, who must be able to master at least two of the three languages used at the university. It is also recommended that all staff learn Luxembourgish to facilitate integration and communication.

The university, which is built along the English model, can only use English as the language of teaching for Masters courses. At degree level (with the exception of technical courses), where French used to be the language of teaching (law, economy, medicine etc.), lessons in German and English are progressively being introduced. Thus, in medicine, for example, anatomy is now taught in German. One of the six priority areas which the university has fixed for itself is researching “the identity of the country, Luxembourgish society, migratory flows and thereby the Luxembourgish language and the system of languages practised in the country in order to promote social cohesion”.

Finally, in the field of fundamental research, in which the University of Luxembourg hopes to make a name for itself, most publications are now in English. 

Luxembourg naturalisation

The Law of 23 October 2008 on Luxembourg nationalisation introduces  requirements on the knowledge of languages. Under the former legislation, the law contains, as well as requirements concerning residence and reputation, a requirement relating to integration, refusing Luxembourg naturalisation to those who do not demonstrate “sufficient assimilation”, without defining the relevant criteria more closely.

The new legislation is innovative in that the linguistic criteria for integration are clearly defined :

 Article 7 Naturalisation will be refused to foreign applicants who do not demonstrate sufficient integration, including :…

b) when the applicant does not show a sufficient active and passive knowledge of at least one of the languages specified in the Law of 24 February 1984 on the language regime in Luxembourg, and when he has not passed an evaluation test on spoken Luxembourgish. The required level of competence in Luxembourgish is Level B1 of the common European framework of reference for languages as regards oral comprehension, and Level A2 of the same framework as regards oral expression;

An executive measure (Grand-Ducal Rule of 31 October 2008 concerning the organisation of tests and the demonstration of competence in communication in spoken Luxembourgish to be administered in the case of naturalisation) specifies the relevant details.

Certain people (long-term residents and those who have been enrolled in the  Luxembourg public education system for at least seven years) are not required to take the language competence test.


Access to certain professions (examples)

Public service

Stipulations regarding the knowledge of the administrative languages relevant when hiring officials are established by the Grand-Ducal Rule of 9 December 1994, which states the means by which knowledge of the three administrative languages should be assured when recruiting officers and employees of the State administration and public institutions, modified by the Grand-Ducal Rule of 30 January 2004.

Judicial careers


The Law of 9 December 1976 relating to the organisation of notaries, modified by the Law of 16 December 2011, requires mastery of the language of legislation and of the administrative and judicial languages as defined in the Law of 24 February 1984 on the language regime. Notaries are also obliged to engage in the drafting of acts in French or German, at the request of the relevant parties. In certain commercial contexts, English is also permitted.

The Bar

By virtue of the stipulations of Article 6 (1) d of the Law (modified) of 10 August 1991, on the profession of lawyer, each individual wishing to be registered in one of the Bar Associations established in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, must master the language of legislation as well as the administrative and judicial languages as defined by the Law of 24 February 1984 of the language regime. The attainment levels are those established by law.


Legal provisions concerning the linguistic integration of migrants and public linguistic training facilities available to them

Faced with a massive influx of foreign national workers – particularly Portuguese - the Luxembourg authorities made it compulsory for all children to start school at the age of four so as to promote the integration of young foreign national children by teaching them Luxembourgish. Since 1998, teachers have been tasked with developing the learning of Luxembourgish for both young Luxembourgers and foreign nationals from the age of three and during the two years of “early years learning”. The Government sees learning this language as a remedy for “linguistic fracture” which will allow children to integrate themselves more easily into the world of work on leaving school. Around 85% of local authorities now offer pre-school education for children from the age of three and by 2009, they will all be obliged to do so. Around 75% of three year olds attend school in this way.

A number of measures have been put into place to remedy the academic failure of young foreign nationals when faced with permanently having to use three languages, and to enable them to integrate better:

§  classes to help with schoolwork;

§  induction classes for newly arrived students;

§  integrated classes with language lessons outside school hours. These are managed exclusively by the Portuguese and Italian embassies, local authorities or Ministry of National Education, who ensure that classrooms are available.

Within induction classes, the choice of language takes into account the age at which the child arrived in the country, what languages s/he already knows, the languages known by the parents and how similar their native language is to the first language to be learnt. For adolescents, the teaching is limited in the first instance to just one language (German or French), whichever is considered closest to the native language of the child, since the primary objective is to allow them to communicate with those around them as soon as possible. Generally speaking, children under 10 receive intensive teaching in German and French to integrate them into normal primary classes. By the end of compulsory schooling, all children must be familiar with Luxembourgish.

Portuguese language assistants can be assigned to help the teacher for a few hours a week on a regular basis in early-years and pre-school education classes with a high proportion of Portuguese children. These lessons are intended to preserve and develop the children’s competences in their native language and give them the best basis for learning other languages. The first Portuguese and Italian classes which formed an integral part of the timetable and curriculum of the Luxembourg school system were introduced in 1983. The institutionalisation of these lessons dates back to 1991, when the Ministries of Education in Luxembourg and Portugal agreed to offer teaching in certain subjects in Portuguese as part of the official primary curriculum. In 2004-5, 14 local authorities offered integrated classes in Portuguese that were attended by 2,183 chilren, while only 49 pupils attended Italian language lessons. The embassies of the countries in question recruit and pay the teachers while the Luxembourg Ministry of National Education contributes to the organisation of the classes and the training of the teachers. It should be noted that, over the past ten years, the demand for Italian lessons has dropped steeply, while the demand for Portuguese lessons has tripled. As a result, the Italian authorities put an end to the programme two years ago.

Learning one’s native language as part of integrated lessons is simultaneously an indispensable base from which to consolidate the learning of other languages and a validation of cultural identity. Nonetheless, some critics believe that it aggravates the deficit of the German language and thereby increases the risk of academic failure.

Different associations (Bosnian, Chinese, etc.) also organise native language lessons for children and young people.

A social and intercultural education project aimed at children between the ages of four and eight, Dat sinn ech (a European project drawn up in the context of the Socrates-Comenius programme in partnership with the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany), allows children from different backgrounds to identify themselves with characters from books written in Luxembourgish. Listening to songs in Luxembourgish also helps improve listening skills for German classes. Translations into French, Portuguese, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and Albanian have already been completed.

The Luxembourg authorities also favour activities designed to raise awareness of languages (an approach that can be applied to all disciplines: languages, mathematics, history, science, music etc.) which aim to incite children’s curiosity about the similarities and differences between languages, to improve their motivation to learn them and to promote a positive attitude towards linguistic and cultural diversity.

In secondary education, and particularly the classical branch, a number of measures have been put into place to facilitate the integration of young foreign nationals. These measures take into account the pupils’ level of understanding of the languages of teaching, German and French.

Allet classes (German as a Foreign Language) in the first years of classical secondary school are designed for pupils who have achieved a very good level of French and Mathematics at primary school, but who have difficulties with German. These classes offer intensive teaching in German.

Two Grand Duchy regulations were adopted on 10 July 2003 to introduce specifically linguistic classes into technical and vocational education and to create induction and integration classes in the first years of technical secondary education.

Induction classes are aimed at pupils over the age of 12 who have recently arrived in the Grand Duchy and speak neither German nor French. In these classes, they receive intensive lessons in French and introductory Luxembourgish lessons.

Since 2004, it has been possible for pupils whose understanding of German is not sufficient to follow the standard education system to receive French language teaching to a number of different levels: certificate of technical and vocational competence, certificate in technical and vocational training, technical diploma and end of technical secondary education diploma.

Integration classes for newly arrived young adults (CLIJA) welcome young people between the ages of 16 and 18 who have recently arrived in the country. They offer basic lessons in French to enable them to access technical secondary education or to be socially and economically independent.

Pre-vocational integration classes (CLIPP) are transitory classes for pupils who have a basic level of French already. Depending on the competences and skills of the pupils in the class, the teaching can be aimed either at getting the pupil into school or into work.

In order to facilitate dialogue between parents and educational bodies, the Luxembourg Ministry implemented a structure of cultural mediators in 1999 to work with asylum seekers. Since 2004, parents and teachers have also been able to seek help from mediation services, institutional heads and teachers trained in the Grand Duchy who speak Portuguese and Creole to facilitate the school entry of Portuguese and Cape Verdean children.


Principal legal provisions in force concerning the use of regional or minority languages

Luxembourg has signed the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages, which aims to protect regional and minority languages in both private and public life. As a result, the Grand Duchy recognises the nine objectives and general principles which are valid for “all regional and minority languages used within the country” (Charter, Article 2, Paragraph 1). The Charter was ratified in June 2005 and came into force on 1 October 2005 (the ratification involved making a list of what languages would be considered to be regional or minority). Finally, a ministerial regulation completes these provisions by creating certificates of competence in Letzebuergesch (Luxembourgish) in conformity with the Council of Europe’s European Reference Framework for Languages.



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