It’s a fascinating city, not least because the European Union institutions make it so multilingual. I’ll walk into a cafe and the barista will start a sentence in Dutch, note the confusion on my face and plump for French but switch to English by the end of the second clause.
It is possibly one of the easiest European cities to get by in without a smattering of the local language.
That is, of course, not the right attitude. Britain’s decision to leave the EU, coming just a month before I was due to up sticks and lodge myself in its heart, strengthened my resolve to learn another language. I was determined to prove that I wasn’t lazy, didn’t expect everyone to speak English and had no disdain for my European neighbours.
But what’s the best way to learn? I had an A Level in Spanish but could barely string two words together in French, let alone Dutch. Brits are notoriously bad at learning languages, and possibly getting worse. In 1998, 86% of students took a GCSE in a foreign language, but by 2015, this had fallen to just 48%. There are now concerns that leaving the EU might have implications for school exchange programmes or the supply of native language teachers.
I also had a full-time job, and not too much free time to dedicate to language learning.
Then I discovered language learning apps. Smartphones are among the most ubiquitous items on the planet so these - largely free-of-charge - apps are a real game-changer, making foreign language learning easier than ever. Learners can learn little and often, and in their free time.
Duolingo, the most popular free language learning app, has 120 million users spanning every country on the planet. Users can pick from more than 20 languages on offer, do a short test to assess their level and then start learning new words. They are tested regularly on the vocabulary, with words they get wrong coming up more often.
Some of the phrases are a little odd, and won’t necessarily be directly relevant to a holiday in Spain (“the bear cannot fit through the door”, for example), but I can’t deny that they keep you on your toes.
Other apps include Livemocha, which allows you to interact with native speakers, and my personal favourite Memrise, which features user-generated flashcards. When a new word is introduced, the app allows you to select another word, phrase or image that helps you anchor it to something memorable.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about many of these apps is the gamification. Replacing rote learning of verb tables with points, leaderboards, daily goals and virtual rewards, they really are a fun way to learn. They even send out push notifications if you haven’t logged in for a while.
But do they work? These apps, researchers from the university of Bath explain, encourage users to learn a lot of words and practice constantly - both vital for foreign language learning. However they also say that they’re no substitute for classroom learning, immersion and speaking practice.
I set myself the task of taking an exam in A1 French - which is for beginners and takes 60 hours to learn - with just Duolingo and Memrise to guide me. It was a success. Being continuously tested, against the clock, and getting instant gratification when you get something right or reach the next level, felt to me like one of the best ways to commit tons of vocab to memory quickly.
Of course, when I arrived in Brussels I soon realised my speaking and listening skills left much to be desired. I took an intensive language course in a classroom setting, in which I learned the basics of grammar and built up my confidence for real life conversations.
But it did set me back almost €500. The great thing about technological advances is that they’ve caused a shift in the demographic of language learners: once a preserve of elites, poorer people have access to foreign language learning materials for the first time. Which is great for economic migrants, for example.
For Luis von Ahn, Duolingo’s founder, that was the whole point: "There's an irony that the people who need to learn a language the most don't have much money, but learning a language costs a lot,” he told the Guardian in 2014, two years after the launch of his app.
Language learners should definitely use as many sources as possible. It was great having a teacher to pick up on my mistakes, and I’ve started tuning in to French radio and buying French comic books. But I still maintain that foreign language apps are one of the best tools at my disposal.
Guest blog by Tamsin Rutter, journalist