The French Language in the Future

Nowadays, French is a vibrant, global language, to the point that it is one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. Its wide use in diplomacy, journalism and jurisprudence, and it often being considered the language of culture, makes it one of the world’s most influential languages today.

The New Dynamic of French in The World

By Mehdi Lazar, Ph.D.

February 16, 2019

According to Ethnologue (the most authoritative online resource on world languages), French is the only language other than English to be spoken on all five continents. In addition, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF, or the Francophonie) shows that in 2018, with around 300 million speakers, Europe accounts for nearly 33.2% of the French-speaking population, while sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean accounts for 44.5%, the North Africa and the Middle East region for 15%, the Americas and the Caribbean region for almost 7% and the Asia/Oceania region for 0.3%.

Fifth Most Widely-Spoken Language

French is actually one of the few languages spoken all over the world, and the fifth most widely-spoken language after Mandarin Chinese (which has over a billion speakers), English, Spanish and Arabic. But one of the main traits of the French language is that it is flourishing. A recent report from the OIF shows that the number of French speakers has shown a steady increase — up nearly 9.6% since 2014.

Because of the population growth of its speakers, the OIF estimates that the number of French language users in 30 years will be between 450 and 750 million speakers. One scenario in particular anticipates French to be spoken by over 700 million by 2060. This is due to the fact that in the majority of countries that belong to the Francophonie, more than 60 percent of the population is under 30 years old, so that the proportion of French speakers in the world population will be rising from 3% to 8%. In that case, French would be the most widely spoken language in the world!

Official Language of International Organizations

Eighty percent of those speakers will be in Africa, because of today’s 100 million speakers currently living on the continent. Of course, this particular study’s methodology is arguable, but the point is well taken: French is truly a dynamic, fast-growing language, and its center of gravity continues to move south.

French remains an official working language in many international institutions: the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), just to name a few.

The Language of Business

The French language enjoys a “cachet” and a certain international prestige. A language of clarity and precision, it has gained centuries of reputation in diplomacy, science, arts, and literature. French is consecutively — with English — a top foreign language taught in the education systems of most countries around the world, making it the second most widely-learned foreign language in the world, with almost 120 million students and 500,000 teachers.

It is, in addition, the fourth most widely used on the Internet (after English and German), and French-speaking areas account for almost 20 percent of world import and export trade. Consequently, French is a clearly advantageous language to speak for international business. It is the second business language in Europe and the third in the world. On that front, French is an official language of Canada, the United States’ number one trading partner.

Cherishing Linguistic Diversity

French is then, with Mandarin, the language of the future. The latter, however, is difficult to learn for most of us and will probably be limited in its growth, given China’s anticipated demographic slide. Meanwhile, French is present on all continents. It will be important in Africa in particular, where today it remains the sole official language in 11 African countries and the second official language in 10. With Africa’s age demographic and its burgeoning birth rate, French will be predominantly spoken in the continent’s next role as an economic powerhouse.

Speaking French furthers the preservation of linguistic diversity in the world, opens doors to other cultures in francophone countries and beyond and is a cultural calling card throughout the global community. At EB, we are honored to offer our students this rich linguistic opportunity.

Mehdi Lazar, Ph.D.

Head of School @EcoleBilingue & Associate Researcher @SorbonneParis1 | Passionate about bilingual and international ed | Papa of two bilingual children!