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 to our online French lessons.
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 do people speak French?
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
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 and Vanuatu.
Top 10 francophone countries by the number of native French speakers:
|Country||Number of native French speakers|
|2||Democratic Republic of Congo||42 million|
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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 do we speak French around the world
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. At the same time 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.
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.
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.
Inspired to practice your French whilst traveling? We have put together a guide to Basic French for travel with essential phrases to communicate.
Why learn French
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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