SignWriting in Belgium
Flanders: Kasterlinden School for the Deaf

Multiple Languages at the
Kasterlinden School in Brussels

An Email Message from Teacher Kathleen Heylen,
at the Kasterlinden School for the Deaf, November, 2004

In Belgium, we officially have three spoken languages: Flemish, French and German. Flanders is the northern section of Belgium that is close to the Netherlands (Holland). The people of the Netherlands understand us pretty well. That’s because we all speak Flemish, which is really Dutch, but there are small dialectical differences between the Dutch spoken in Holland, and the Dutch spoken in Belgium (Flemish).

The city of Brussels is situated in Flanders, but used to be and still mainly is French (Walloon) speaking. The southern part of Belgium is near France and this is where the people live, whom we call 'Walloon'. This used to be the 'rich' part of Belgium in the early 19th century, but that changed about 70 years ago. Now Flanders is the economic drive of Belgium.

Some people in Flanders want to separate from Wallonië (the French-speaking Belgians), making Flanders a separate country. I myself cannot imagine going on a trip and telling people that I am from the independant 'Country of Flanders'. Many people outside our country are not sure where Belgium is, let alone Flanders!

And then there is a VERY small part of Belgium with German speaking people, but they are such a small part that they are forgotten frequently (shame on us!).
There are other languages that exist in Belgium too, but are not officially recognized, such as our signed languages. In the Flemish section of Belgium we use Flemish Sign Language, which we call Vlaamse gebarentaal (VGT). Flemish Sign Language consists of several dialects, as you can see on the University of Ghent web site:

There is also a 'French-related' sign language called 'langue des signes Wallon', or Walloon Sign Language. I don’t have any information on the existence of 'German sign language' in Belgium. (Deutche gebarensprache). I suspect the population of deaf people in the German-speaking part of Belgium, must be very small or even none existent.

The Walloon Sign Language is recognized and used in the schools, but not as an official language. There are actions at hand to promote the recognition of Flemish Sign Language as an official language: This site is also available in English.
Now for my school, Kasterlinden. (Sint-Agatha-Berchem)...

The Kasterlinden School is situated in Brussels. So which languages do we use? In my section of the school you see deaf people signing VGT, and on the other side of the school, Walloon Sign Language. There are people running around speaking Dutch (Flemish) or French (Walloon). These two sections of our school used to be blended together, but a few years ago the two groups where separated, Flemish and Walloon. So now the children at my part of the school learn 2 languages: Flemish Sign Language (VGT) and Dutch (Flemish) written and/or spoken. This is how we see bi-lingual education. The children are brought up in there first language: Flemish Sign Language and learn to read and write (sometimes speak) Dutch. I myself teach VGT and d/Deaf culture together with Sara, my co-teacher.

We teach the children the grammar and syntax of VGT and do this by using SignWriting. What is our population? Well, all the children run through our classroom, no matter what their hearing loss. Some students have more hours using VGT per week than others.
I would love to get some information on other people using SignWriting in Belgium. The people I know don’t really use it or are not working as educators. My French is not as good as I would want it to be. So I get more information in English and Flemish then French. It's much more difficult for me to read a book in French than in English. But I will do my best to work with my Belgian partners ;o)

O dierbaar België ;o)

Vive la Belgique ;o)

(you see, again I skip the German part of Belgium :p )

Kathleen Heylen


Teachers at Kasterlinden School for the Deaf
Kathleen Heylen (left), and Sara Geudens (right).


Kathleen Heylen and Sara Geudens

Kasterlinden School for the Deaf
Dilbeekstraat 1, 1082, Sint-Agatha-Berchem, Belgium

SignWriting in Belgium
Flanders: Kasterlinden School for the Deaf