The numbers that tell the story of the French language in 2019

In honour of International French Language Day, we've collected the figures that show the significance of the language in 2019.

The numbers that tell the story of the French language in 2019
Photo: alexkich/Depositphotos
Wednesday marks 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
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.
(Photo: AFP)
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.

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‘Sac iconique’: France unveils French shopping terms to replace English versions

A commission that seeks to act as a guardian of the French language has published a string of recommendations for translations of shopping and style terms, to replace widely-used English ones.

'Sac iconique': France unveils French shopping terms to replace English versions

Perhaps inspired by this month’s Paris Fashion Week, the non-binding recommendations from the Commission for Enrichment of the French Language were published in Wednesday’s Official Journal.

Instead of an “it-bag” — defined as “a handbag in the latest fashion or that stands for a brand” — ministries and businesses are encouraged to write “sac iconique“.

An “it-boy” or “it-girl” can now safely be described as an “icone de la mode” and a “must-have” transforms into an “incontournable“, while “try before you buy” becomes “essayer-acheter”.

There are also more baffling business terms that may be unfamiliar to many native English speakers, like “digital native vertical brand” (“marque integree nee en ligne“).

Set up in 2015, the Commission for Enrichment of the French Language aims to “provide French vocabulary appropriate to the need for communication that is clear and accessible to the greatest number of people”, it said in the introduction to its 2021 annual report.

Led by a member of the Academie Francaise — founded in 1635 under King Louis XIII to guard “pure” French — the Commission says it “recalls to a broad audience the importance of having and using French vocabulary so as to keep our language functional”.

Given the dominance of English in global business and technology, its terms are the most frequently targeted for translation into the language of Moliere.

“These days there’s no invention, innovation or discovery that doesn’t have its corresponding term, increasingly often in English,” the Commission said in its report.

“The flow of new concepts that must be defined and named in French is therefore continuous.”

The report cited fields including hydrogen power, the Covid-19 pandemic and malicious digital activities as recent areas to which  its 20-odd expert groups have turned their attention.