You’ve probably encountered some French in your life, even if you don’t speak it. In fact, roughly 30 percent of English words originate from French! From restaurant menus to art galleries, the French language can be found in more places than just France. With over 220 million speakers worldwide, it’s no surprise that the language is so common!
It’s estimated the number of French speakers could grow to 700 million by 2050. If you’re interested in joining their ranks, start learning French with Rosetta Stone! You’ll learn to speak French through a Dynamic Immersion approach that taps into your natural language learning abilities. Plus, Rosetta Stone’s advanced TruAccent technology will help you master your pronunciation.
Below, we’ll take a detailed look at where French is spoken and how it’s evolved.
How many countries speak French?
French is the official language of 29 countries, including France, Belgium, Canada, and Switzerland, the full list of which you’ll find below. But as the fifth most spoken language in the world, there are many more countries that speak it unofficially.
According to the International Organization of Francophonie—a group that represents countries and regions where French is the customary language—there are 88 different states and countries around the world with significant French-speaking populations. In fact, 93 million students are taught French as their language of instruction.
And, if you’ve ever watched an international sporting event, you’ve likely heard announcements made in French. That’s because French is used as an official language for multiple international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the International Association Football Federation, the International Olympics Committee, Doctors Without Borders, and more.
Which countries speak French?
As mentioned above, there are 29 countries that claim French as an official language. Of these 29 countries, 16 have French as the co-official language. Here is the complete list of countries with French as their official language:
- Belgium (co-official)
- Burkina Faso
- Burundi (co-official)
- Cameroon (co-official)
- Canada (co-official)
- Central African Republic (co-official)
- Chad (co-official)
- Comoros (co-official)
- Congo, Democratic Republic of
- Cote d’Ivoire
- Djibouti (co-official)
- Guinea (co-official)
- Haiti (co-official)
- Luxembourg (co-official)
- Madagascar (co-official)
- Rwanda (co-official)
- Seychelles (co-official)
- Switzerland (co-official)
- Vanuatu (co-official)
And here are all the countries that have French-speaking populations or use French as an administrative language:
- Czech Republic
- French Guiana
- French Polynesia
- New Caledonia
- Saint Barthelemy
- Saint Martin
- Saint Pierre and Miquelon
- United States
- Wallis and Futuna
Where are the most French speakers?
French is one of the most widely spoken languages with speakers on every continent.
Africa is home to the highest number of French speakers: 22 of the 29 countries that list French as their official language are located on the continent. It remains a popular language in other African countries as well, including those like Egypt and Morocco that do not list French as a national language. In total, it’s estimated that 47 percent of daily French speakers live in Africa.
The second highest concentration of French speakers is in Europe. The continent of Europe has five countries that list French as an official language, though only France and Monaco have French as the sole official language.
North America has the third largest concentration of French speakers. Most notably Canada, Haiti, and some Caribbean islands have French as their official language.
As for the remaining continents, Oceania and South America are the only other two to have at least one country with French as an official language. In Asia, French is either a minority language or an unofficial language. In India, where Hindi and Urdu are most prevalent, there are only two cities that speak French—Chandannagar and Puducherry.
Are there different French dialects?
As one of the most widely spoken languages, it’s no surprise that there are numerous French dialects. Dialects present certain nuances that are specific to each region. Native French speakers in Haiti not only sound slightly different from native French speakers in Belgium, but they also have their own unique slang.
For instance in Canada, there are five regional dialects for French—Acadian French, Chiac, Newfoundland French, Quebec French, and Ontario French. Some are influenced by global standard French, the kind taught in schools and spoken in France, while others are influenced by Creole populations or colonial French settlers.
In the United States, Louisiana French is a mixture of colonial and French creole. Creole French is a collection of languages that combines aspects of French, Indian, and African languages, a result of French colonization in the 17th century. In America, the Louisiana Creole and Cajun communities still speak a distinct Louisiana Creole language alongside the Louisiana French that remains a widely spoken and unofficial language for the state.
One of the most distinct French dialects is Haitian Creole. Spoken by an estimated 12 million people, Haitian Creole is the most popular of the French-based creole languages.
In Africa, there are multiple regional differences influenced by native languages and former colonial powers. One of the larger distinctions is between the French spoken along the Ivory Coast and the French spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ivory Coast French uses many loanwords from regional African languages, and standard French terms have evolved to take on new meanings. On the other hand, French used in the Congo is heavily influenced by the four national languages— Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo, and Tshiluba—that are spoken more often in the country.
How did French spread?
The first major usage of French was in the mid 1600’s with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War. This treaty was the first major document to be written in French; before that Europe had used mainly Latin. Throughout the next few centuries, French continued to grow as a popular language among noble and educated populations in Europe. With French and Belgian colonization, French was further spread to Africa, Asia, and North America.
Later, with the creation of large international institutions like the United Nations, The International Criminal Court, World Trade Organization, and the European Union, French further solidified itself as a major language in the international sphere.
Should you learn French?
Yes, bien sûr (of course)! Because French is spoken in so many places around the world, you’re bound to make good use of it, even if you don’t travel. Imagine all the people you can meet in your own community!
Plus, learning a second language has shown to have many benefits. French especially can help you get a leg up in the corporate world. And, with Rosetta Stone it’s easier than ever to start!
Start by learning basic words and phrases, reviewing the most common verbs in French, or exploring the south of France through everyday conversations. Rosetta Stone can help you learn a language faster and more confidently than you would if you studied on your own.
With Rosetta Stone, you’ll learn French naturally with a unique immersive approach to learning. Bite-sized lessons help you learn at your own pace, and the Rosetta Stone app lets you do it all on the go.
Ready to jump right in? Start your first lesson today at rosettastone.com.