The French language has approximately 80 million native speakers, as well as 190 million secondary speakers, meaning that around 270 million people speak the language worldwide.
There are many French-speaking countries in the world. Together they are known as the Francophonie – the French-speaking world. Anyone who lives in a French-speaking country or speaks French as a first language can be considered part of the Francophonie.
The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF)
The OIF is an official organisation comprising 57 official member states whose main language is French. The OIF is designed to bring French-speaking cultures together and share knowledge and culture.
The OIF also puts on les Jeux de la Francophonie – similar to the Commonwealth games – where countries compete in various sports, including athletics and football.
Up until the early 20th century, Britain, Spain, Portugal and France all had large empires which meant countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia came under their rule. At one time, France ruled around 8 per cent of the world’s countries.
Many colonies gained independence after World War One and France still had a strong influence in some countries in Africa and South East Asia up until the 1960s. A result of the colonial era is that many countries still use French as a national language, even though they are no longer ruled by France.
France still governs many countries outside of Europe. These are referred to as the DOM-TOM – Départements et Territoires d’outre-mer. They include countries such as Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, French Guiana in South America and French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean.
A large part of Canada is French-speaking. Quebec is a region of Canada whose official language is French and its culture has a strong French influence. It is the only part of Canada where French is the official language. Of the 8 million people who live in Quebec, about 80 per cent speak French.
Québec was a French colony for more than two centuries from 1534 to 1760. Most of the former French colonies are now English-speaking.
Tourist information will often be given in both French and English and many people will often speak English and French. However, there are laws in place to restrict the amount of English that can be used in shops. Quebec is keen to protect its French language and culture.
France had colonies in the USA, especially in the south in Louisiana and New Orleans. French is still spoken in Louisiana today.
In French Guiana the official languages are French and Creole. It is the only French-speaking territory in South America. It was occupied by France in the 17th century.
The official languages of Guadeloupe are French and Creole. The capital city is Basse-Terre. It has been a region of France since the 1980s. It has also been occupied by Britain and Sweden.
In Martinique they also speak French and Creole. Fort-de-France is the capital city and the country produces bananas, petrol and rum. It has been occupied by France since 1635 although it has been occupied by Britain at different times since then.
Over 100 million people speak French across 31 different African countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
Algeria has been influenced by many cultures and it was under French rule from 1830-1962. Arabic, Berber and French are the languages spoken today. It covers 2.4 million sq km making it the largest country on the African continent and the 10th largest country in the world.
French is also spoken in the Northern African countries of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia which have all had French influences.
Senegal was a French colony until it gained independence on 4th April 1959. Every year, this date is celebrated as a national holiday.
St Louis in Senegal still shows the impact of French culture as it was a major city in the French Empire. It was a port for traders travelling between France and the Caribbean. There are still pâtisseries and boulangeries in the main cities selling croissants for breakfast.
Dakar has a population of 7 million. It was first colonised by France in 1658. In 1960, the Republic of Senegal was established. The Senegalese speak Wolof as a national language as well as French.
French is also spoken in (La Mauritanie), Mali (Le Mali), French Guinea (La Guinée), Ivory Coast (La Côte d’Ivoire), Burkina Faso (Le Burkina Faso), Benin (Le Bénin) and Niger (Le Niger).
Tahiti is one of the French Polynesian islands that speak French as well as Tahitian. French Polynesia includes 118 different islands and 5 archipelagos. In 2004, the islands were classed as a French ‘overseas country’. The tiny island of New Caledonia (Nouvelle Calédonie) near Australia is also owned by France and has contentiously been used as a base for French nuclear trials in the Pacific.
French is mainly spoken in the South of Belgium. Flemish is spoken in the North. The French-speaking South is known as Wallonia. Liège is the largest French-speaking city in Wallonia.
Switzerland has four official languages – German, Italian, French and Romansch. It is a landlocked country surrounded by Germany, France, Austria, Liechtenstein and Italy. This position has influenced the culture and language in different areas of Switzerland. Geneva is the largest French-speaking city in Switzerland due to its proximity to the French border.
Source: BBC Bitesize