The French Language Outside of France

The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) just published La Langue française dans le monde 2010, its most recent report on the state of the French language in the world today. It will be in bookstores October 21 (éd. Nathan, 26€), just a day before the XIIIème Sommet de la Francophonie takes place this weekend, October 22-24, in Montreux, Switzerland.

Some statistics on the French language:

  • 220 million people speak French in the world, either as a first or second language (20 million more than just 3 years ago!)
  • 116 million people are learning French as a second or third language
  • most native speakers of French live in Europe, eastern Canada and the US (Maine and Louisiana)
  • most second language speakers of French live in West & Central Africa
  • 67% of people who speak French or who are learning French are located in Africa (compared to 23% in Europe, 8% in the Americas, and 2% in Asia/Oceania)
  • French is the 8th most used language on the internet
  • French is the 4th most spoken language in the United States (after English, Spanish, and Chinese)
  • French is the 3rd most spoken language in the European Union (after German and English)
  • French is the official language in 29 countries and commonly used in 7 other countries
  • the OIF includes 56 member states and 14 observer states who promote the French language (excluding Algeria, Israel, Aosta Valley in Italy, and the US, where French is also spoken by a large number of people)

Over 60 million people speak French as a native language in France, but this include the DOM-TOMS, so remember that there are many places all over the world that are “France” but are not located in Europe, whether they are départements, territories or have a somewhat independent status:

  • Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, and St. Barthélemy in the Caribbean
  • French Guiana in South America
  • St. Pierre et Miquelon in North America
  • La Réunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean
  • New Caledonia, Wallis et Futuna, and French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean

Members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie

So if you want to learn the French language, but do not want to study in or visit France in Europe, you can always go to a DOM-TOM or one of these countries where French is either an official language or a commonly used language (ranked according to number of French speakers):

  1. Algeria
  2. Côte d’Ivoire
  3. Canada
  4. Tunisia
  5. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  6. Haiti
  7. Belgium
  8. Morocco
  9. Cameroon
  10. Mauritania
  11. Guinea
  12. Togo
  13. Chad
  14. Switzerland
  15. Niger
  16. Republic of the Congo
  17. Gabon
  18. Senegal
  19. Mali
  20. Central African Republic
  21. Madagascar
  22. Benin
  23. Burkina Faso
  24. Lebanon
  25. Rwanda
  26. Luxembourg
  27. Burundi
  28. Comoros
  29. Mauritius
  30. Djibouti
  31. Equatorial Guinea
  32. Vanuatu
  33. Andorra
  34. Monaco
  35. Seychelles

You can download a 26 page summary of La Langue française dans le Monde 2010 in PDF format.

And OIF is now on Twitter: @OIFfrancophonie

  • Thanks for the tip! I’ll go read the pdf.

  • Gwan

    I’m really surprised that the US comes in 3rd for native French speakers, I would have said somewhere in Africa for sure. Is that the descendants of the original French settlers, or is there a high number of immigrants from France and their children in that number?

    • It’s a combination of the immigrants from France, Canada and Haiti, plus the native speakers of Acadian French in Lousiana and Maine. Maine borders Quebec and New Brunswick, where the most French is spoken in Canada, so there are many French speakers in Maine too.

      Most other French-speaking countries have French as a second language rather than first though, so that’s why African countries are usually further down the list. More Africans learn French in school instead of being bilingual from a young age, so it doesn’t count as their native language.

  • That was really interesting, thank you for posting that. I thought French was primarily spoken in North Africa but it seems to be mostly West Africa with a few in the Northwest that speak it. Huh.

    I wasn’t surprised to hear that Louisiana had a lot of French speakers due to the Creole/French culture and background, but why Maine??


    • Yeah it’s the Western countries like Cameroun and Gabon that promote French more than the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), which is understandable since those last three tend to want to turn away from anything to do with their colonizer, and hence why they don’t have French as an official language and Algeria does not belong to Francophonie.

      Maine has a history of Acadian French settlers since it borders the maritime provinces of Canada where they were all located. Even with the deportation of Acadians by the British (a lot when to Louisiana, but many eventually returned anyway) in the 1700’s, that area today still has a lot of native French speakers. I’m sure it surprises a lot of people, especially since most only really know about Quebecois French and probably have never heard of Acadian French.

      • Wow, that’s really interesting, thanks for that–I’m a history nerd and that sort of thing (unknown history that few people are aware of) is what really does it for me. I never would’ve thought that Maine had a bunch of Americans whose families had been there for generations and who were also native French speakers. Cool 🙂


  • Personally I found this part of the document to be the most interesting:

    That’s the change over the past three years by region, and in spite of the huge 20 million increase Europe seems to be under the impression that French is a dying language and its popularity has been dropping. That’s why we saw a few articles last week about how English has won the battle for supremacy and there is no need to ever learn another language again and so on and so forth. French is actually in a pretty fortunate position – all that is needed is to increase basic literacy, health and internet access in sub-Saharan Africa and voilà, that’s half a billion extra speakers over the next four decades both online and offline for minimal effort.

  • Thank goodness for Africa! I get so sick of Americans and Europeans who say that no one speaks French anymore since they think it’s only spoken in Europe. It’s still a major language in Europe even compared to German & English, but certain Anglophones like to try to minimize its importance.

    • Frecil

      At the time of Louis XIV, very few people spoke french (even in France), but thoses who do belong to the elite such as diplomats.

      Now, they are more french speakers than ever, but most are living in Africa and are beyond poverty level. Not a interesting audience from a business perspective.

      There have always been a billion people speaking chinese, but it only starts to matter now as the middle class is quickly expanding, and most worlwide company now see china has a high-potential market.

    • Adam Hovey

      Many Americans DO speak French. It is the most widely spoken language other than English in New England. Not to mention enjoys protective status in France. Though t is (sadly) going extinct in Missouri

  • very useful. i have downloaded pdf file as well.

  • Srujanpeter

    There are aslo a few places in India where French is commonly spoken.