French-speaking countries

Did you know that French – alongside English, – is a language spoken on all five continents? With over 80 million native speakers worldwide, French is the official language in 29 countries, and is the second most-used official language.

Within la francophonie (French-speaking countries), unsurprisingly France has the most native speakers (60 million), followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (42 million), and Canada (7 million). French is an official United Nations language and the third-most spoken language in the European Union.

How many people speak French in the world?

There are many French-speaking countries around the world where French is the mother tongue or the official language. It is estimated that around 300 million people speak French to varying degrees, including French dialects and Creole languages. In addition, there are 125 million people studying French, with 50 million learning French as a foreign language. To learn French as a foreign language, or French Langue Etrangère (FLE), sign up for our online French lessons.

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French is the fifth-most spoken language after English, Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish. It is also the official language of NATO, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. 

There’s hard evidence that you’re not alone in your French learning journey and that native speakers can be found all over the world! 

Where is French spoken? 

French is spoken in France as well as its overseas departments and territories. These areas are what remains of France’s colonial past.

French Overseas departments:

  • French Guiana 
  • Guadeloupe
  • Martinique 
  • Mayotte 
  • Réunion 

French Overseas collectivities:

  • French Polynesia
  • Saint Barthélemy
  • Saint Martin
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon
  • Wallis and Futuna
  • New Caledonia

French overseas territories:

  • French Southern and Antarctic Lands

Below is the list of the 29 francophone countries that have French as an official language: 

  • Belgium, 
  • Benin, 
  • Burkina Faso, 
  • Burundi, 
  • Cameroon, 
  • Canada, 
  • Central African Republic, 
  • Chad, 
  • Comoros, 
  • Congo, 
  • Djibouti, 
  • Equatorial Guinea, 
  • France, 
  • Gabon, 
  • Guinea, 
  • Haiti, 
  • Ivory Coast, 
  • Luxembourg, 
  • Madagascar, 
  • Mali, 
  • Monaco, 
  • Niger, 
  • Rwanda, 
  • Senegal, 
  • Seychelles, 
  • Switzerland, 
  • Togo
  • Vanuatu.

29 francophone countries by number of native French speakers:

CountryNumber of native French speakers
1France62 million
2Democratic Republic of Congo42 million
3Ivory Coast7.2 million
4Canada7 million
5Cameroon6.4 million
6Haiti 4.6 million
7Belgium4.5 million
8Benin3.8 million
9Togo2.6 million
10Niger2.5 million
11Chad2.1 million
12Switzerland2 million
13Central African Republic1.4 million
14Rwanda 700,000
15Gabon320,000
16Burundi300,000
17Comoros216,000
18Burkina Faso170,000
19Senegal59,000
20Luxembourg57,000
21Equatorial Guinea41,000
22Madagascar18,000
23Djibouti17,000
24Monaco 10,000
25Guinea
26Mali9,000
27Vanuatu1,800
28Seychelles630
29GuineaAlmost exclusively used as a second language

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In recent years, the number of French speakers has greatly increased, accelerated by the youth in French-speaking countries in Africa. 

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the French language was brought over by Belgian colonizers. Based on population alone (89 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest country with French as the official language, but only 50% of the population speaks French daily. French is used in government and for business, while there are 242 other spoken languages, including Kituba, Lingala and Swahili.

In Europe, outside of France, the main French-speaking countries are Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Each of these countries uses several languages, and the language used depends on which part of the country you are in. 

In the Northern Flemish Region of Belgium, you are unlikely to find any French speakers, but as you reach Brussels and head south, you will be able to speak French. Switzerland boasts 4 official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Swiss French is only spoken in the West, where the country borders France. Lastly, languages in Luxembourg include Luxembourgian, French and German. 

French is also the official language of the sovereign city-state of Monaco on the French Riviera.

It may come as a surprise that Russian is the most common language spoken in Europe, followed by German, French and English. Despite Brexit, English remains the most commonly spoken language within the European Union. 

Why is French spoken in so many countries? 

French is a Romance language, originating from Latin and later fusing with Gaulish to become French as we know it today. Through colonization in the 16th and 17th centuries, the French language became widespread throughout Africa and parts of the Americas.

Why is French spoken in Canada? 

French settlers brought the French language with them, which over the years got mixed with English. However in 1974, French became the official language of Québec, the standards for which are highly protected by institutions such as the Office of The French Language.

French Canadian is syntactically identical to French spoken in France, however it differs from a lexical point of view. Indeed, some of the vocabulary is different from French and could well be taken from English or older French. 

Quebec’s French also differs from one Canadian area to the other, the biggest difference being the accents. 

Why is French spoken in Africa? 

Later in the 19th century, France began a second colonial empire, taking control over several North African countries including Algeria, and sub-Saharan countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and the Republic of Congo. French is still an official language in former French colonies, and has been integrated with local dialects. Back in France, due to the mass immigration of North Africans, many Arabic words have been integrated into everyday French language.

Other places where French is spoken

A lesser-known fact is that French is the official language in Pondicherry (or Puducherry), India, a former French colony. There are around 5,000 French natives living there. 

Spoken as a first language by 1,800 people and as a second by roughly 87,000 people, French is the second most spoken language of Vanuatu after English. Actually, Vanuatu is the furthest French-speaking country from mainland France with a distance of 16,000 km.

Inspired to practice your French whilst traveling? We have put together a guide to Basic French for travel with essential phrases to communicate.

French as an official language of international organizations

In the 17th century, French became the language of diplomacy and public relations, it remains the official language of many international organizations:

  • United Nations
  • European Union
  • NATO
  • World Trade Organization
  • UNESCO
  • International Court of Justice
  • Red Cross
  • Olympic Committee

Good reasons to learn French today

French is a useful language to learn. Forbes has called it the language of the future, and predicts 750 million French speakers by 2050. French is the second most-studied language and the third most-used language in business, with the Francophone area accounting for over 15% of global wealth. These are all great reasons to start learning French, among others, especially as it is gaining momentum as a lingua franca across Western and Central African countries.

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5 thoughts on “French-speaking countries

  1. Hissein Galmai

    I thought Chinese or Spanish was the most commonly spoken language after English, never expected for it to be French.
    I thought French has always been an official in Quebec since it’s creation, I never knew until now it became an official language in 1974.

    1. Olivia

      Hello,

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment on our blog.

      After checking updated figures on the most spoken languages in the world, it appears that, according to Ethnologue, in 2022, French is the fifth-most spoken language after English, Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish.

      The Quebec National Assembly indeed adopted the Official Language Act (Bill 22) in July 1974. It made French the official language in Quebec, while granting anglophones the rights they had historically enjoyed.

      Looking forward to welcoming you to our blog soon!

      Have a great day,

      The Gymglish team

  2. La Francophone

    Your number does not include Haiti with an estimated population of 10-12 million people. This would certainly rank it top 5. Actually you neglected many French speaking countries in Africa that more numbers than at least Switzerland such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, etc.

    1. Diane

      Hi there!

      Thank you so much for your comment. We really appreciate your feedback on our previous article about French-speaking countries. We took your suggestions into account and made some modifications to provide you with an even better version of the rankings and numbers.

      We wanted to clarify that our original ranking was based on people who speak French as their first and national language, excluding cases where French is spoken alongside other languages. This adjustment ensures a more accurate representation of the French-speaking countries.

      We’re excited to share the revised article with you and would love to hear your thoughts on it! Take a look and let us know what you think :).

      The Gymglish Team

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