The numbers that tell the story of the French language in 2024

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The numbers that tell the story of the French language in 2024
The French capital Paris on Bastille Day in 2015 (Photo by Joël SAGET / AFP)

In honour of International French Language Day, we've collected the figures that show the significance of the language in 2024.


Wednesday marked the annual International Francophonie Day, which is observed every March 20th to celebrate the French language and Francophone culture.

In honour of the event, here are some figures that reveal the global status on the health of the French language, and projections for how the Francophone world might evolve in the future.


French is the 5th most spoken language in the world

According to the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), as of 2023, there were about 321 million French speakers worldwide, which means French ranks as the 5th most spoken language globally, behind Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic.  

Around 100 million of those people speak French as their first language - or native tongue.

However it must be added that this ranking was called into contention in 2017 by experts who believe that the way populations are counted in countries where French is an official language is inaccurate.

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

READ MORE: The 13 French words that English-speakers just can't stop using

Fourth language on the web

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

As of 2023, it ranked as the 5th biggest language on the Internet, behind English, Spanish, Russian and German in a study by W3Techs.

It's also the third language of business and commerce, according to Bloomberg rankings.

French is spoken on all five continents

Perhaps emphasising the potential French has to become the world's leading language, the report by Ethnologue highlighted 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.

It is also worth noting that France's overseas territories, which are officially part of France but encompass the Caribbean, the Pacific, South America and Antarctica, are also French-speaking. In addition, there is the Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises, a research station in the Antarctic that is part of French territory.

French is an official language of 29 countries

In addition to being spoken on all five continents, French is the official language in 29 countries. It also serves as one of the official languages for several international organisations and events, including the United Nations and the Olympics. 

On the African continent alone there are 21 countries who count French as one of their official languages. 


French is the first language of 14 percent of EU citizens

French is the third most spoken language in the EU - up from fourth place since Brexit. It is also the native language of at least 14 percent of EU citizens, as of February 2020.

READ MORE: A language expert's top three tips for learning French

When excluding English - which remains the most studied language for secondary school pupils in both general and vocational programmes, French came in third place as the most studied language (22 percent) for general secondary school students, following behind Spanish which came in second place with 27 percent.

For those in vocational programmes, French came in third place again, this time following German in second place and English in first, according to Eurostat.

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 French is the language of schooling in the educational systems of 36 states, with the majority being 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 over half of all people who use French on a daily basis 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.

According to the OIF, almost three quarters of children learning in French around the world were located in countries in sub-Saharan Africa or the Indian Ocean.

READ MORE: Quiz: Test your French language level on the A1 to C2 scale

Speaking French is becoming more common

Between 2014 and 2019, there was an increase of 30 million French speakers, and these numbers are set to keep on growing.

These gains represented an increase of 10 percent, and they are likely due to improvements in African education systems.

And by the year 2050...

According to the OIF, estimates indicate that there could be around 715 million French speakers in 2050, which would represent eight percent of the world's population. 



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