French Speaking Countries

French, like Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Romanian, is a Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin, an everyday language frequently used by the Romans. It originated from the Gallo-Romance, mainly spoken in Northern Gaul, and replaced Latin as France’s official language in 1539. From Gaul, the Roman colonialist spread the French language far and wide, including North America and Africa, before Western Roman Empire’s dissolution. A French-speaking country or person is known as Francophone.

Global Status

Today, French is spoken by about 300 million people, including about 76 million native speakers. It is the world’s second most taught, sixth-most popularly spoken, and the 18th most popularly spoken native language. However, the majority of French speakers use it as a second language. The francophone population is expected to reach about 650 million by 2050.

Europe has the highest proportion (40%) of the francophone population, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (35%). 15% of French speakers live in the Middle East and North Africa, while the rest of the speakers are scattered in America, Asia, and Oceania. French is also the EU’s second most popular mother tongue and the region’s second most taught language after English. All the EU institutions use French as one of the working languages. Twentynine countries across several continents use French as their official language, with Africa having the second-largest francophone population after Europe.

Countries Where French Is The Official Language

29 sovereign states and several territories use French as their official language. However, it is a co-official language in 16 of the 29 countries, meaning that it is used alongside other official languages. French is constitutionally recognized as the official language, while in other countries, it is a de facto official language due to a high population of speakers.

French-speaking Countries

Belgium

Benin

Burkina

Burundi

Cameroon

Canada

Central African Republic

Chad

Comoros

Congo

Congo, Democratic Republic of

Cote d'Ivoire

Djibouti

France

Gabon

Guinea

Haiti

Luxembourg

Madagascar

Mali

Monaco

Niger

Rwanda

Senegal

Seychelles

Switzerland

Togo

Vanuatu

Vietnam

Europe

French is Europe’s third most spoken language after German and English. It is the official language of five countries on the continent, including Belgium, Monaco, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and France. However, it is the only official language in France and Monaco and shares the official status in the other three countries.

Unsurprisingly, France has the world’s highest population of native French Speakers. However, it has the second-highest francophone population after the DRC. French is the official language used in government documents, legal contracts, public education, and media.

In Luxembourg, the French language shares official status with Luxembourgish and German. However, it is the most preferred language for public administration and business. In Belgium, French is a co-official language with German and Dutch at the federal level and is the only official language of Wallonia. Besides French, Switzerland also uses Romansh, Italian, and German as its official language. French is popularly spoken in Romandy (western Switzerland), including Geneva.

Africa

French and Arabic are popular languages in Morocco, Africa. Souvenirs displaying both languages in a local market in Marrakech, Morocco.

Africa has the second-largest Francophone population because of France’s influence during the continent’s scramble, partition, and colonization by the European powers. French is Africa’s fastest-growing language. According to the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), over 140 million people across the continent speak French as a first or secondary language. Although 34 African countries have significant French speakers, the language has official status in only 21 countries. 

French is the only official language in 11 of the 21 African states. DR Congo is the world’s most populous francophone country, with about 105 million people. According to the 2014 OIF report, over 30 million people in the country can write and read in French, and other millions can speak and understand the language. Besides the DRC, French is also the only official language in Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger, Congo, Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea, and Gabon. In most of these countries, French is spoken alongside other national languages, mostly local or native languages.

The French language shares the official status with other languages in 10 Africa countries; Seychelles, Burundi, Rwanda, Cameroon, Madagascar, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Djibouti, and Comoros. Since Africa has rich indigenous languages, French is used alongside some of the local languages. However, in Cameroon and Seychelles, it shares official status with English, while in Comoros and Djibouti, French is used alongside Arabic.

The Americas And Oceania

Road sign in English and French in Canada.

North and South America are home to about 8% of the Francophone population. Canada is the world’s third most populated French-speaking country, after DR Congo and France, with an estimated population of 38 million people. However, only 9.5 million people, about 25% of the Canadian population, speak French as their first language. It is a secondary language of about two million people in the country. French, alongside English, is the country’s official language at the federal level. At the regional level, French is Quebec’s sole official language and the first language of more than 80% of the provincial population. Up to 95 of Quebec’s population use French as either their first or secondary language. Besides Quebec, French is also a popular language in Manitoba, New Brunswick, and the three territories.

Haitians also use French as one of their official languages, with about 20-30% of the country’s population speaking it as their first language. The country’s other official language is Haitian Creole, which is a French-based Creole language. In Oceania, French is the official language of Vanuatu and is spoken by about 30% of the population. Over 95% of the population of New Caledonia, a French collectivity, also speaks French.

Other Countries With Significant French Speakers

Sign of the Saint Louis Cathedral of the Capuchin Fathers in French and Arabic language in Beirut, Lebanon. French is widely spoken in Lebanon.

Although the overwhelming majority of French speakers are in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, there are also countries in Oceania, Asia, and the Middle East with a significant francophone population. In the US, French is the 4th most popular language after English, Chinese, and Spanish. It is the second most popular language in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Louisiana. Louisiana is home to several French dialects, collectively known as Louisiana French.

In Asia, there are significant French speakers in French Indochina, which includes modern-day Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. It is one of the administrative languages in Cambodia and Laos. In Western Asia, French is spoken mainly in Israel, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. However, the Lebanese constitution, which mentions Arabic as the country’s official language, regulates how French is to be used. It is the country’s second-most popular language and is used on road signs, license plates, pound banknotes, and government buildings. In the UAE, French is mostly spoken by French immigrants and those with family ties in Francophone countries.

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