When you visit countries in which French is an official language, of which there are many, you’ll be amazed at its variations. It truly is diverse.
The many French flavors alone are enough to make you want to master the French language and a great way to practice is to visit countries in which French is spoken.
If this is your aim, you’ll need to know which countries French is the official language.
Take a look at the list below.
Table of Contents:
- How many French speakers are there in the world?
- Facts about the French language
- Countries where French is an official language
- Burkina Faso
- Central African Republic
- Congo (DRC)
- Congo (RC)
- Equatorial Guinea
- French Polynesia
- Ivory Coast
How many French speakers are there in the world?
Across the globe, there are approximately 267 million French speakers.
What should you know about the French language?
Here are five facts that you should know about the French language.
- The largest number of French speakers are located in France. In France, there are approximately 60 million native French speakers. In the European Union, French is the second most spoken language.
- The French language is called a Romance language because its roots go as far back as Latin, which is the language spoken by the Romans. The language grew over time and, in 1539, it became the official language of France due to the proclamation of François I.
- One thing to keep in mind is that there are at least 28 dialects across the many French regions. In addition to the Normand, Paris and Marseille dialects, there are many other dialects such as that spoken in Burgundy, Gascony, and Lorrain.
- There are regional accents to be aware of in France too. Compare the pronunciation of the French word for tomorrow demain and how it is pronounced in the south of France demaing. It’s quite a difference!
- You’ll hear French spoken in many countries that were former colonies of France. You’ll notice, for instance, that there are many French speakers in African countries and that French is an official language in these countries as well.
Countries where the official language is French
With these French facts and statistics covered, let’s now look at countries where the official language is French.
Native French speakers: 8.7 million people
Belgium’s official languages include German, Dutch and French. Roughly 40% of the Belgian population speaks French, and 60% of the Belgian population speak Dutch.
There are also a few other languages spoken in Belgium. The Romance language Walloon is one example, which also has a few distinct dialects such as Picard.
Native French speakers: 3.8 million people
In Benin, several languages are spoken. There are a few indigenous languages such as Dendi, Bariba and Yoruba. French is the official language in Benin.
Benin has also adopted a few customs of French culture, one of which is French cabaret, and the biggest religious group is Roman Catholicism due to the European influences of the colonial period.
Native French speakers: 4.75 million people
The West African country, Burkina Faso, is multilingual. French is its official language, brought to the country during colonial times. The French language is used for administrative purposes, in addition to public services.
Over 60 languages that are spoken in Burkina Faso are indigenous languages, which include Mossi and several Gurunsi languages.
Some of the cultural influences of the colonial period, such as Western-style theatre, have remained in Burkina Faso.
Native French speakers: 939,657 people
There are three official languages in Burundi: English, Kirundi and French. While English became an official language in 2014, French has been spoken in Burundi since the colonial period. Most educated and upper-class people in Burundi speak French.
Native French speakers: 10 million people
Cameroon has two official languages: English and French. Upward of 80% of the population in Cameroon can understand French.
Around 250 languages aside from French and English are spoken and understood in Cameroon including Cameroonian Pidgin English. The country is one of the most diverse countries on the planet in terms of the languages spoken and understood there.
Native French speakers: 7.1 million people
In addition to several non-official languages, such as Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and Italian, there are a couple of official languages that are spoken in Canada. These official languages are French and English.
The majority of Canadians who speak French reside in Quebec. However, there are also other French-speaking populations in locations such as Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. Ontario has the biggest population of French speakers and is second only to Quebec.
Central African Republic
Native French speakers: 1.3 million people
In the Central African Republic, you’ll notice that there is a vast range of spoken languages. There are approximately 72 languages in the Central African Republic.
You’ll also notice that French and Sangho are the two official languages here, and if you visit the south of the country, you will hear Bantu and Bongo-Bagirmi languages spoken in the Central African Republic/Chad border.
Native French speakers: 1.95 million people
In Chad, the two official languages that are spoken are French and Arabic. The Chadian Arabic language, which is a type of “bridge” language or lingua franca, is used particularly for commerce and trading purposes. There are, however, many indigenous languages spoken in Chad as well.
Though the Ngambay language is the first language of many Chadians and has approximately one million speakers, one thing to note is that the French language is used for educational purposes, and lessons are taught in French.
Native French speakers: 216,174 people
In addition to the many Comorian languages, which are referred to as Shikomori and have links to the Swahili language, French and Arabic are two other spoken languages in Comoros. French, Arabic and the Comorian languages are all official languages in Comoros.
French is used as a language for administrative purposes, while Arabic is normally considered a second language as it is used for educative purposes—particularly for teaching the Quran.
Native French speakers: 42.4 million people
More than 33 million people_ who reside in the Democratic Republic of Congo can read and write the French language. Here, it is an official language that was taught in schools during the colonial period when Belgium ruled the DRC.
Officials in government often use the French language for administrative meetings.
In the same way that the French language became adopted by the DRC, the country also adopted many cultural practices due to the effects of colonialism. This includes the adoption of Christianity.
As colonialism came to an end, native Congolese culture became a part of their Christian worship.
Native French speakers: 3.1 million people
Although the region once was home to many tribes that spoke the Bantu language, French is now the official language of the Republic of the Congo.
The other national languages that you’ll hear in the Republic of the Congo are Lingala and Kityuba, Mbochi and Téké. Of the entire Congolese population, though, 30% speak French, and 88% in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, are able to write basic French sentences.
Native French speakers: 485,704 people
Djibouti features a vast range of different languages including Somali, and Afar. The country’s official languages are French and Arabic, with French being adopted since the colonial era.
There are also immigrant languages spoken in Djibouti, including Omani Arabic, Amharic, and others.
Native French speakers: 379,847 people
Although only spoken in a few towns on the border, French is one of the official languages spoken in Equatorial Guinea. Some of the other official languages include Spanish and Portuguese, with nearly 68% of the population able to speak Spanish.
Some of the aboriginal languages, such as Bujeba, Ndowe, Bube, and Fang, are upheld and revered because they are critical parts of the nation’s culture.
France has over 60 million French speakers. As mentioned, it also has several dialects that belong to different regions, including Breton, Basque, Alsatian and Occitan. In some French schools in France, specific French dialects are taught.
Native French speakers: 60 million people
French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands and atolls, including the popular island destination of Tahiti. French is the sole official language, but there are many smaller indigenous languages too.
Native French speakers: 275,918 people
Native French speakers: 1.36 million people
The Gabonese Republic, since colonial times, has taken on French as an official language. In Gabon, other native languages, including native Gabonese, are spoken by indigenous people of specific regions.
Native French speakers: 3.3 million people
In Guinea, the official language is French. It is used for communicating in Guinean schools and for administration in the Guinean government. Guinea also has a few other indigenous languages, including Maninka, Pular and Susu.
Native French speakers: 4.6 million people
In addition to Haitian Creole, French is an official language in Haiti. Approximately 10% of Haitians are Francophones due to the colonisation of the country in the 17th century. After the 18th century, however, Haitian Creole has risen in terms of its appearance in written texts and literature.
The other 90% of the Haitian population speak Haitian Creole, a language that is French-based and used by approximately 12 million people_ across the globe.
Native French speakers: 8.25 million people
Here in the Ivory Coast, over 70 languages are spoken. The official language, French, is taught during childhood education and was adopted during colonial times.
The other language that is taught during childhood education is Dioula, which is used for commerce and trade, and some of the other indigenous languages include Baoulé and Akyé, with approximately 2 million speakers and 500,000 speakers, respectively.
Native French speakers: 543,104 people
Luxembourgish (which is the national language of Luxembourg), German and French are all languages used in official administrative circumstances, and plenty of other languages are spoken here as well.
In addition to Portuguese, the Italian and German languages are also spoken in Luxembourg. 80% of the Luxembourg population can speak English as well.
Note that Luxembourgish is a language that features over 5,000 words that come from the French language.
Native French speakers: 5.25 million people
In Madagascar, you’ll notice two official languages. The first of these is French, and the second is Malagasy. As it was formerly a French colony, in Madagascar, you will notice that the French language is used by the elite or educated class of the Madagascan population.
Although being classed as a Francophone nation, more of the population speaks Malagasy compared to French in this country.
Native French speakers: 3.2 million people
More than 40 different African languages are used in Mali, with 51% of the population able to speak Bambara, but the country’s official language is French. French was brought to Mali during the colonial period, and it is used in schools and in the government.
Native French speakers: 37,695 people
Many languages are spoken in Monaco, including English, Italian, Occitan and French, with French being a common and official language that is spoken in the country.
You might also hear Monégasque spoken in Monaco if you visit this country. It’s the language spoken by the Monegasque people in Monaco who make up 22% of the whole population.
You will also see that street signs in certain parts of Monaco are written in both French and Monégasque.
Native French speakers: 2.8 million people
In Niger, the official language is French. It was adopted during colonial times, and those who have been educated can speak French. Like many of the other countries’ governments on this list, the French language is used for administrative processes and in courts.
Other national languages that you will hear in Niger include Arabic, Hausa, Zarma, Tebu and many others, and there are approximately 14.5 million Hausa speakers in Niger.
Native French speakers: 724,423 million people
You’ll hear a variety of languages in Rwanda, from Swahili to Kinyarwanda to English and French. Of these, Rwanda’s official languages are French, English and Swahili.
It was after the genocide of 1994 that the English began to be used increasingly as the Rwandan Patriotic Front removed the genocidal regime, and English-speaking Tutsi refugees returned to Rwanda. English then began to be used for educational purposes and in schools.
Both French and Swahili are taught in primary schools.
Native French speakers: 4.2 million people
Approximately 39 languages are spoken in Senegal, including Wolof (which is the language that is spoken most widely in Senegal), French, the Guinea Creole dialect, Soninke, Mandinka and many, many other national languages.
French was brought to and inherited by Senegal in the colonial period, and when Senegal became an independent country, it endorsed and confirmed French as its official language.
An additional language that is taught in secondary schools is English, and you will also hear Portuguese Creole in certain locations such as Casamance.
Native French speakers: 50,475 people
In addition to French, some of the other national languages spoken in Seychelles are English and Seychellois Creole—the latter being a language based on French.
A minority speaks French compared to the 95% that speaks Seychellois Creole, while English is used for business and commerce, in addition to government administration.
The main religion of Seychelles is Roman Catholicism, which was brought there by the French, who colonised the island in the middle of the 18th century.
Native French speakers: 5.7 million people
When visiting Switzerland, you will potentially hear the German, Italian, or French language being spoken depending on the specific region you travel to.
You’ll notice that Italian is spoken by those in the south of Switzerland, French is spoken towards the west of the country and that over 60% of the Swiss population speaks German.
The other language you might hear is Romansh, which 0.5% of the population speaks.
Just over 20% of the Swiss population speaks French, and many who live in Romandy speak Swiss-French, which bears a strong likeness to the French spoken in France.
Native French speakers: 3.2 million people
French is Togo’s official language, but you will hear several other languages in the country. In addition to the Gbe languages, there are also 39 other languages spoken by the Togolese population, including Ewé and Kabiyé.
For formal education, commerce and trade, and government administration, the French language is used in Togo.
Native French speakers: 88,850 people
Three official languages are used in Vanuatu: Bislama, French and English. Here, French is used in education, as is English, and the creole language Bislama is a language that you’ll hear in urban locations.
0.6% of the Vanuatu population speaks French as a first language, and 31% can understand and write basic written French.
There are also 113 indigenous languages in Vanuatu, including Espiritu Santo and Uripriv.
Hone your French linguistic skills: Practice in countries where French is an official language
The diversity of the French language is beautiful.
To hone your skills and perfect your speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, it’s time to combine your love of French and travel.
Practice speaking to French native speakers in a country where French is an official language.
If you can’t travel, then use a site like italki to connect with people online.
You’ll have the chance to become culturally immersed and gain an insight into the French language that you weren’t aware of before.
Travel, learn and immerse yourself in the different cultures of countries where French is an official language.
Did we miss an important country on this list?
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