7 La Francophonie
It’s clear by now that French is spoken all over the world, by people with hugely different cultures, and often more than one main language. The term la francophonie refers to the areas of the world where French is spoken. Here are some key statistics about the French language’s place in the world (auf.org, 2019):
- The French language is the fifth most spoken around the world (after Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic).
- Around 60% of the people who use French on a daily basis live on the African continent.
- French is an official language in 32 states and governments, and an official language in most international organisations.
- French is the language of education (at school or university) for over 80 million people from 36 countries and territories.
- French is learned as a second language by over 50 million people.
- French is used widely by international media, on French channels like TV5Monde, RFI or France24, but also Euronews, BBC News, the Chinese channel CGTN, and the Russian channel RT.
- French is the fourth most commonly used language on the Internet.
In much the same way that dozens of countries, being former territories of the British Empire, have joined together through the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation was formed in 1970 to bring together nations who share French as a language. Today this institution is called the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), commonly referred to as la Francophonie. (Note that this official organisation is written with a capital F – it’s different to the earlier concept of la francophonie, with a small f.)
The OIF brings together 57 French-speaking member countries, in order to share cultures and economic goals. Every four years since 1989, it has organised the Francophone Games, les Jeux de la Francophonie. Thousands of athletes from member nations (as well as a few associate member nations and observer nations) travel to participate in various sports – like a French-speaking Olympic games. In addition to the sporting events, this is a celebration of the diversity of the participating nations, and there are competitive cultural events in disciplines such as song, poetry and dance.
There are strong economic links between countries within the OIF, especially in the creative industries, due to the shared French language. These countries export and import cultural products to each other. This includes newspapers and books, films, visual art, video games, music and musical instruments, as well as jewellery, craft and design products.
This week has introduced a plethora of French-speaking communities around the world. Throughout your studies you’ll become progressively more acquainted with a diverse range of countries. Courses and study materials often focus on the more local areas: if you’re studying in the UK, you will probably learn more about the French-speaking countries in Europe; if you’re based in America, you will probably learn more about French-speaking parts of Canada. But in any case, you will see that learning French as a language used within specific cultures, and learning about their way of life, geography or history, will make it a lot more interesting to learn alongside vocabulary and grammar, and will give you greater motivation to keep going!