The following article from Flanders Today highlighted something that I have suspected for a long time: English is everywhere in Brussels. Maybe not EVERYWHERE, but I do know some non-Belgians who live here without knowing any French or Dutch (or German which is the third official language in Belgium).
In fact the figures used in the article show French spoken by 88% of respondents, English by nearly 30% and Dutch by 23%.
The results from the VUB team (note their website is only available in Dutch and English) which carried out the inquiry show also that Dutch knowledge is increasing. Something to which I, as a resident of Brussels and a Dutch language student, can attest. I hear Dutch a lot more in the streets and trams than when I first lived here nearly 20 years ago and I find the Dutch language education in Brussels extensive. There are lots of opportunities to learn Dutch and get better at it: not only subsidised Dutch lessons but Dutch language local libraries (such as Kontakt) and conversation tables organised in Dutch.
The sad truth of it though is that these initiatives need to be in place (regardless of any political motivation) because Flemings simply don't like speaking Dutch to non-native Dutch speakers. One Fleming conceded that this was because they didn't want to give the 'power' of the conversation away; that they prefer to understand everything and keep the 'advantage'. Another Fleming friend maintains that he speaks English rather than Dutch (to me!) because Flemish people like to help others, which I can well understand but it doesn't help me learn Dutch!
I was at a dinner party with Flemings and said, in Dutch, "It's a struggle to speak Dutch here in Brussels as Flemings speak to me in English", to which the guy, completely unfazed, replied in English…
It's a good job I'm tenacious! I still try to speak Dutch in shops and in street encounters but my goal of being fluent in Dutch within a year came and went. I am conversant with a strong intermediate level but this is thanks mainly to my own hard work and lessons rather than encounters with native Dutch speakers.