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

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

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. 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.

  2. 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.

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.