French is not just one of the most beautiful languages in the world, but also one of the most rapidly growing ones as well. And, a testament to that is the fact that the lion’s share of French speakers don’t even reside in France!
French speakers are spread across a vast geographic area, residing in at least 29 countries across most of the continents. And, they number to a whopping ~265-300 million speakers, which includes pidgin and creole speakers as well, along with numerous dialects and variations.
Besides being one of the most important languages of the European Union and the United Nations Organization, French, thanks to France’s history of colonization, is seventh on the list of most spoken languages in the world. And, thanks to France’s position as a major military power of the modern world, it is also one of the major languages of NATO (with both France and Canada being members).
French speaking countries and countries with high populations of French learners have come together to form the OIF, the full form of which translates roughly to International Organization of the Francophone nations. This organization brings together more than 80 nations that speak and understand or at least learn French. And, OIF forecasts the number of French speakers to grow manifold, to reach 700 million by the year 2050.
Having said that, French is an official language spoken in at least 29 countries. Most of these countries and most of the world’s French speakers reside in various African nations (OIF also forecasts that by 2050, 80% of French speakers will reside in Africa).
Read on to know what they are:
Countries that speak French as an official language
Here are all the nations (we have internationally excluded France) that speak French as an official language or have significant clusters of people speaking French, classified according to the continents to which they belong.
- The Principality of Monaco
As mentioned before, most of the world’s French speakers, also known as “Francophones,” reside in Africa. And, one of the most well-known French writers, Albert Camus, himself, hailed from Algeria, one of France’s major former colonies. Here are the African countries that speak French.
- The Democratic Republic of Congo
- Côte d’Ivoire
- Burkina Faso
- Republic of Congo
- French Guinea
- Central African Republic
- Equatorial Guinea
- The Union of the Comoros
- South Africa
Algeria, although not recognizing French as an official language, does give it lingua franca status, owing to the cultural and political interface with France.
North and South America and the Caribbean:
- Parts of the United States of America
- Guadeloupe (French overseas territory)
In the APAC/Polynesian region, France holds sway over French Polynesia as well, where the language is spoken and understood by most of the population. And, speaking of French Polynesia, the legendary Paul Gaughin, one of the stalwarts of the Symbolist movement in art, spent ten years of his life here.
A short but comprehensive history of the French language and its spread across the globe
French is not just one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, but also one of the fastest spreading as well. But to really understand how the language evolved into its current avatar, one must briefly understand how it evolved over history.
- Part of the ancient Western European region that the Romans called Gaul (Asterix the Gaul, remember?), modern-day France and Belgium were inhabited by predominantly Celtic-speaking peoples. After the final conquest by Julius Caesar, Latin overtook the local Gallo-Celtic dialect to establish itself as the lingua franca of these places.
- To be able to speak and be accepted into the upper echelons of Roman society, the indigenous peoples began to learn and speak Latin, and they were very well assimilated into the culture of the Empire in such a way that only about approximately 150 words or so from the original Gallo-Celtic language were passed on to Latin.
- However, as the evolution of all languages goes, Latin was not exempt from appropriation and dilution, largely among the lower social stratas. This gave rise to the “local” Latin dialect, often referred to as “Vulgar” Latin.
- This eventually saw even more changes resulting from the incursions by various Germanic tribes into Gaul. These included groups like the Frankish, who would go on to lend their name to the country.
- The Frankish people put emphasis on their own usages, stresses, accents, etc., upon the preexisting colloquial Latin, giving rise to the predecessor of the modern French tongue.
- Thanks to these unique linguistic interfaces, French is very distinct from other similar Romance languages (the word “Romance” refers to the Roman origin and not the common connotations of love) such as Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
In later centuries, especially during the Age of Discovery, and the Age of Colonization, France was a leading contender among the world’s superpowers, establishing colonies all over Africa, the Americas, and some regions of Asia.
This gave the already diverse language a number of local variations as well as giving rise to different creoles and pidgins, especially in the Caribbean and Africa. The effects of this can still be seen today in many Francophone African nations.
In the current era, thanks to France’s active participation in both World Wars, as well as becoming one of the world’s leading economies and place of business, French as a language has taken tremendous strides.
Some fun facts you might not have known about the French language
- French is one of the most influential, diplomatic languages in the world.
- About 40-45% of English words are of French origin: a testament to the fact that both nations share a lot of historical interface, from the Norman conquest of England to World War II and NATO Allies.
- French has a total of eight tenses, compared to the three main tenses in English.
- French has a lot of homophones or similar sounding words with different meanings, a fact that can be seen in the sheer number of French tongue twisters.
- No French word starts with a “W.”
- Apart from English, French is the only language with a presence on every inhabited continent, a testament to the vast extent of both empires in history.
- It is an ever-evolving, complex language with more than a million words; and it is still not done as dozens of new words are added to French dictionaries each year.
Why should you learn French
- It is considered one of the most pleasing languages to speak in and hear, often finding associations with love and romance.
- If you’re a foodie, French cuisine is one of the world’s most coveted and complex cuisines, and has practically influenced/given rise to iconic dishes such as the butter-basted steak, pastries, chocolates, breads, and many more.
- France is the fashion capital of the world. Legends in the game such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Christian Dior, are all French brands. Paris Fashion Week sees the creme de la creme of couture culture celebrate fashion every year.
- At least 15 authors writing in French have received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the most for any single language. And this group includes Algerians, French, Irish, and Russian personalities.
If these were not enough, French nationals Auguste and Louis Lumière gave rise to the very art of motion pictures. Since then, French cinema has undergone numerous evolutions, and has continued to influence and inspire almost every cinephile ever. The Cannes film festival is one of the, if not the most famous and coveted film festivals in the world.
In the world of the arts as well, the likes of Paul Gaughin, Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri Matisse were all French, among many others.
Besides, the French national football team is the current reigning champion of the footballing world.
So, don’t sit back and just contemplate. Take the first step toward French literacy because it is an awesome language and a very vibrant culture, and speaking the language will open up doors to you in almost any continent you travel to. Use the internet to its full potential and explore all the options at your fingertips and choose a course that suits you today!