The French Language: Facts and Figures

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Introduction: How many people speak French?

We know French is one of the most beautiful languages in the world, but how about some basic data. Do we know how many French speakers there are? Where French is spoken? How many French-speaking countries there are? In which international organizations is French an official language? Yes, we do. Let's talk basic facts and figures about the French language.

The Number of French Speakers in the World

Arriving at a definitive statistic for the number of French speakers today in the world is not an easy task. According to the "Ethnologue Report," In 1999 French was the 11th most common first language in the world, with 77 million first-language speakers and another 51 million second-language speakers. The same report said French is the second most commonly taught second language in the world (after English).

Another source, "La Francophonie dans le monde 2006-2007," looks at it differently:

  • 128 million francophones: speak French (as a native or adopted language) fluently and use it on a regular basis.
  • 72 million "partiel" (partial) francophones: live in a francophone country but do not speak French regularly, due to limited knowledge.
  • 100-110 million students of all ages: do not live in a francophone country, but have learned/are learning French in order to communicate with francophones.

Fact and Figures about the French Language

  • French-speaking countries
  • Unofficial French-speaking countries
  • Organizations that use French
  • Resources and further reading

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Where French is the Official Language, or One of the Official Languages

French is spoken officially in 33 countries. That is, there are 33 countries in which French is either the official language, or one of the official languages. This number is second only to English, which is spoken officially in 45 countries. French and English are the only languages spoken as a native language on five continents and the only languages taught in every country in the world.

Countries Where French is the Official Language

French is the official language of France and its overseas territories* as well as 14 other countries:

  1. Bénin
  2. Burkina Faso
  3. Central African Republic
  4. Congo (Democratic Republic of)
  5. Congo (Republic of)
  6. Côte d'Ivoire
  7. Gabon
  8. Guinea
  9. Luxembourg
  10. Mali
  11. Monaco
  12. Niger
  13. Sénégal
  14. Togo

*French Territories

  • Départements d'outre-mer (DOM), aka Régions d'outre-mer (ROM)
       French Guyana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte,** La Réunion
  • Collectivités d'outre-mer (COM), aka Territoires d'outre mer (TOM)
       French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Saint Barthélemy (St. Barts),*** Saint Martin,*** Saint Pierre and Miquelon,** Wallis and Futuna
  • Territoires d'outre-mer (TOM)
       French southern & Antarctic lands

**These two were formerly Collectivités territoriales.
***These became COM when they seceded from Guadeloupe in 2007.

Countries Where French is One of the Official Languages and
Regions of Multilingual Countries Where It Is the Official Language 

  • Belgium (the official language in Wallonie) 
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Canada (the official language in Québec) 
  • Chad
  • Channel Islands (the official language in Guernsey and Jersey)
  • Comoros
  • Djibouti
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Haiti (the other official language is French Creole)
  • Madagascar
  • Rwanda
  • Seychelles
  • Switzerland (the official language in Jura, Genève, Neuchâtel and Vaud)
  • Vanuatu

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Where French Plays an Important (Unofficial) Role

In many countries, French plays an important role, either as an administrative, commercial or international language or simply due to a significant French-speaking population.

 Countries Where French Plays an Important (Unofficial) Role

  • Algeria
  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Cambodia
  • Cape Verde
  • Dominica (French patois)
  • Egypt
  • Greece
  • Grenada (French patois)
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • India
  • Italy (Valle d'Aosta)
  • Laos
  • Lebanon
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritius
  • Morocco
  • Poland
  • Saint Lucia
  • Syria
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Tunisia
  • United States (Louisiana, New England)
  • Vatican City
  • Vietnam

The Canadian provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba have smaller but still significant French-speaking populations compared to Québec, which accounts for the largest French-speaking population in Canada.

Countries Loosely Associated With 'la Francophonie'

Although official information about what role French plays in the following countries is scant, French is spoken and taught there, and these countries are members of or associated with la Francophonie.

  • Albania 
  • Bulgaria 
  • Czech Republic 
  • Lithuania
  • Macedonia 
  • Moldovia 
  • Romania 
  • Slovenia

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Organizations Where French Is an Official Language

French is considered an international language not only because it is spoken in dozens of countries, but also because it is one of the official working languages in many important international organizations.

Organizations Where French Is an Official Working Language

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of official working languages for each organization.

  • African Union (AU)  (5)
  • Amnesty International  (4)
  • Council of Europe  (2)
  • European Commission  (3)
  • Interpol  (4)
  • International Criminal Court  (2)
  • International Olympic Committee  (2)
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO)  (2)
  • International Red Cross and Red Crescent  (3)
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)  (1)
  • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)  (3)
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)  (2)
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  (2)
  • United Nations (UN)  (6)
  • World Health Organization (WHO)  (6)
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)  (3)

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References and Further Reading

References With More Facts and Figures About the French Language

1. "Ethnologue Report" for Language Code: FRN.

2. "La Francophonie dans le monde" (Synthèse pour la Presse). Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Paris, Éditions Nathan, 2007.

3. Four respected references, some with contradictory information, were used to compile the data for this section. 

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