French is a romance language just like Romanian, Portuguese, and Spanish. It originated from Vulgar Latin, which was the language of the Romans. After the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, individual territories became culturally and linguistically isolated. French was developed in France, and it replaced Latin as the official language in 1539. Approximately 300 million people across the world speak French including the native, non-native, partial speakers, and those who use it as a Creole language. Nearly 80 million are native speakers, and more than 220 million use French as the second or third language. French is the sixth most spoken language after Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, English, and Mandarin. About 120 million people are studying French around the world. The largest population of native speakers is in France, but the largest population of French-speaking people is in Africa with the Democratic Republic of Congo being the most populous country where French is the official language. By 2050, the French-speaking population would have risen to about 700 million.
French in the Middle East
Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East where French is spoken in an official capacity. Although Article 1 of the constitution declares Arabic as the official national language, it provides the provisions where French is to be used. About 40% of the population is Francophone while another 15% is partially Francophone. Seventy percent of schools in the country use French as the second language. The use of French in Lebanon is tied to the country’s history with France. After the First World War, the League of Nations established the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon that lasted until 1946. About 20% of Lebanese speak French on a daily basis. English and French are becoming more popular among the youth at a time when the preference of Arabic by the educated Lebanese is declining. French is the preferred language for education, diplomacy, and business. Apart from Lebanon, thousands of expatriates from France and other French-speaking countries are found in other Middle Eastern countries especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.
French in the Rest of the World
In Europe, French is used as an official language of France, Switzerland, Belgium, Monaco, and Luxembourg. About 60 million people speak French in France as a native language while 30 million use it as a second language in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Half of the population in Belgium also speaks it. French is the official language of French Polynesia, Vanuatu, Futuna, Wallis, and New Caledonia. In the Far East, it is spoken in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.