For members


In Numbers: In what state of health is the French language in 2018?

The world's club of French-speaking countries are meeting once again for their annual conference but in what state of health is the French language in 2018? Here are some interesting figures.

In Numbers: In what state of health is the French language in 2018?
Photo: AFP

A new report has been released in France that gives a global status update on the health of the French language, and projections for how the francophone world might evolve in the future.

France's president Emmanuel Macron made headlines last year when he suggested French could become the first language of the world.

Well is his ambition any closer to being realized? Here are some key stats to show just the global health of the language of Molière. 

French is the 5th most spoken language in the world

There are some 300 million French speakers worldwide which means French ranks as the 5th most spoken language globally, behind Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic.

However it must be added that this ranking has also been called into contention by experts who believe that the way populations are counted in countries where French is an official language is inaccurate.

Experts say an estimate by Ethnologue, a reference guide to world languages that ranks French 14th, may be closer to the mark.

(Where in the world French is an official language?)

Fourth language on the web

It might be some consolation to Macron, however, that French can still claim to be one of the most typed languages in the world.

It ranks as the 4th biggest language on the Internet, behind English, Chinese and Spanish.

It's also the third language of business and commerce.

French is spoken on all five continents

Perhaps emphasising the potential French has to become the world’s leading language, the report highlights the fact that the francophone world stretches across five continents and overlaps with more than a quarter of the 6,000 languages spoken globally. 

The only other language to achieve this is English.

(An estimation of the number of French speakers in each continent.)

French is an official language of 32 states

The report also highlights French’s use as an official language throughout the world. Aside from major global organisations such as the UN, and international events like the Olympics, French is listed as an official language of 32 national governments.

French is the first language of 12 percent of EU citizens

This makes it the 4th most spoken native language in the EU after German, English and Italian, although the Britain’s exit from Europe will bump French up to 3rd place next year.

It is also the second most popular language to learn in schools across Europe, after English, with just over 26% of students taking up the language in secondary school.

There are 51 million French language learners worldwide

If le subjonctif still remains a mystery to you, you’re not alone.

This figure counts learners of French as a second language and numbers them as the second largest group of language learners, after English learners, globally.

The report claims that there is no country in the world where French isn’t taught, although the majority of students are in Africa, closely followed by Europe.

Two thirds of all French speakers are in Africa

Not only does the continent contain the most French language learners, but 59% of all French speakers (classed as those who were born into and live their lives in French) live in Africa.

French is more widely used in Africa by young people than older generations and most African parents (or potential parents) hope to pass on the language to their children.

(What percentage of people are learning French?)

There are 10% more French speakers than 4 years ago

There are 30 million more French speakers than there was in 2014 and the numbers are set to keep on growing.

No, these gains aren’t expected to come from Brexit weary Brits packing up and moving to France, but from expected improvements in African education systems.

And by the year 2070…

Projections for 2070 are that there will be between 477 and 747 million French speakers around the world, compared to 300 million today.

Member comments

  1. No mention here of the Pacific. New Caledonia (kind of Oceania)or Tahiti? Then there are the islands in the Indian Ocean but these are very small numbers of course and yet I am sure they would be upset at not getting a mention. Notwithstanding that, very interesting facts. Even if French was only spoken in France, it would still be the most beautiful language on the planet (and frustratingly difficult)! I am a mere English speaking New Zealander trying ever so hard to speak French. We own a house in Burgundy and no one speaks English in our village but that is a wonderful way of learning by necessity, even if it is a struggle.

  2. Also missing from the map was French Guyana. I am an anglophone Canadian but French is my second language and I use it daily either on the internet or through books in my library.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.