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Francophonie: 321 million French speakers worldwide

29 April 2022 French language
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In late March, during the International Francophonie Day, the Observatory of the French Language published its latest figures underlining a continued growth of French language worldwide since 2018. With 321 million speakers, French is still the 5th most spoken language after English, Chinese, Hindi and Spanish, though its growth is slightly slowing down. What this report tells is that the majority of French speakers (62%) now live in Africa, a 2.5 points increase since 2018, and 93 million pupils and students attend educational teaching in French worldwide.

The 2022 edition of the La langue française dans le monde (French language worldwide) opens with this observation: “Less and less people are born as French speakers, but more and more become so in their life!”. Though most French speakers worldwide speak French on a daily basis and the number of French speakers in Africa is constantly growing, speaking French is not “natural”: new speakers who didn’t have French as their first language “absorb the French language using other linguistic skills”.





Africa, the most active region


In four years, 21 million more people have spoken French, a 7% increase since 2018, to reach a total of 321 million speakers worldwide. The trend, now under observation for years, “keeps growing steadily, even though a slight slowing down may be observed”.

More precisely, statistics show that 36 countries represent the majority of the expansion of the French language, since they group 80% of French speakers worldwide. They form a “decisive group” for the future of the French language, and “it’s on the African continent that the future of the French language is at play”. Alone, Africa represent 95% of the increase, and more than 19 million of new speakers live in this area. A close analysis reveals an “African momentum”, and particularly in Sub-Saharan African, a region that includes more than 80% of the French-speaking growth area. However, the report says, “the future of the French language on this continent still depends on certain conditions in relation with education in the South countries, where French is the language of education for about 75 million pupils and students”. In addition to Africa, in terms of Francophone speakers, the report notes that Europe is in second position, thanks to France, but also the Federation Wallonia-Brussels, Swiss Romandie, Luxembourg and Monaco, followed by North America, Haiti and Lebanon “the leading country in terms of education in French in North Africa/Middle East region”.


French, the language of education


The French language is indeed the language of education in the education systems of 36 countries, including 24 in the Africa/Indian Ocean and Middle East regions, where French generally serves as the language of education, but also communication between populations who have “as their first language one or several tongues, often transnationals, on their territories, characterised by a high linguistic and cultural diversity”.

In total, 93 million pupils and students attend education teaching in French worldwide, a slightly growing figures, according to the report that “confirms that the French language hasn’t lost its status of language of education, and that education systems of countries where the number of children attending school is increasing accept a growing part”. It is worth noting that French learning is increasing on all continents except Europe, “where education policies are still not open enough on language diversity”.


A scheme to encourage multilingualism


It is this linguistic diversity that the report also refers to in another area, when it deplores “the dangers of monolingualism in international organisations” and the “failure to respect multilingualism”.

Significant imbalances are reported in favour of English to the detriment of other official or working languages in the overall work of official organisations and in particular “in recruitment processes, in external communication and in calls for tender or projects”. Multilingualism is thus “undermined” in most international organisations where “texts are produced and circulated essentially in a single language”, i.e. English.

In order to “reverse the decline of French language”, the Secretary General of La Francophonie has received the support of the 88 member states and governments of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) and the groups of French-speaking ambassadors to set up a “watchdog, alert and action mechanism”. In this regard, the report notes progress in the French language, including for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, where French is the official language, but at the UN and within the European Union, where “since Brexit, the domination of English in institutions is being felt as even more irrelevant”.


Digital language


Two additional fields, the digital and culture fields, also underline the importance of the French language. On the digital side, French confirms its fourth position on the Internet. Indeed, French is still “a key language in the digital universe”, but “impacts of the digital gap pressure progress”, and especially in French-speaking African countries. The report says that French language “registers the highest degree of cyber-globalisation after English, which influence continues to decrease because of the increasing presence of Asian countries and the Arabic world, among other factors”. The report forecasts that “in the long term, the demographic growth anticipated in Africa should indirectly favour the presence of the French language on the Internet”. 

About the dissemination of culture in French language, the report notes that “despites their diversity, cultural and artistic contents and events in the French-speaking space” are still less present on the Internet. Noting that access to culture is increasingly via the digital channel, the report regrets the lack of visibility of French productions, even if initiatives in favour of diversity are emerging, such as those initiated by the channel TV5 Monde. The report concludes on a final, more positive point, literature and books, in all their forms, including digital, which, according to the authors, are without question “one of the best places for Francophone cultural diversity to flourish” and a territory that is “very rich and full of promise”.


To know more: 

Presentation of the 2022 report about the French language worldwide


Photo credit: © Alex Tharreau / OIF


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