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Get ready for beginners’ French
Get ready for beginners’ French

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2 The French-speaking world

When you hear the word ‘French’, what immediately springs to your mind? Perhaps you have a picture of France as a beautiful landscape with sunflowers, lavender or vineyards. Or maybe it’s a bustling city with elegant buildings and streets lined with cafés. When you hear someone speaking French, do you wonder where they come from? You may be surprised as you discover more about the regions and countries in the wider world where French is spoken, and the important place the French language has in the world.

Below are some facts and figures about French and the French-speaking world (Organisation mondiale de la francophonie, 2018). Do any of them surprise you?

  • Over 300 million people around the world speak French.
  • France is the most-visited country in the world, with 75 million tourists every year.
  • Toulouse and Montreal are among the world’s leading cities in aerospace technology.
  • French film production is the second-largest in the world, producing 500 films per year. In Canada, Quebec films often outsell Hollywood films at the box office.
  • The French alphabet has 26 letters, and the longest word in the dictionary is anticonstitutionnellement with 25 letters! The French language also makes use of accented characters, for example, these accents used on the letter e: é and è. These are not counted as separate letters of the alphabet.
  • French is an official language in several countries in Africa, and it is a language used by part of the population in several more. Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the world's second-largest French-speaking city after Paris.

You might like to do your own research into aspects of the French-speaking world that interest you most. If you live in a nearby country, perhaps there is an area of France that you visit frequently. See what you can investigate further: find out about the local industry, or whether any significant historical events occurred there. Is there a chance you might travel to a French-speaking country (other than France) for work? Try and find out more about that country – it could be very different to going to France! Armed with knowledge like this, you will feel more confident at striking up conversation with people who live there (whether that’s in French or in your first language).

The French-speaking world is collectively referred to as la francophonie. How many countries belong to la francophonie, do you think? Test your knowledge with this short activity.

Activity 2 French-speaking countries

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

How many countries can you name where French is spoken? Write as many names as you can think of in the text box below.

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French is the fifth most spoken language in the world, and fourth on the internet.

Did you include any African countries in your list? 59% of the people who use French daily are located on the African continent. 88 countries are members of the Organisation Mondiale de la Francophonie.

You will find out more about the countries in which French is an official language in the next section.