The French language is the only official language of the French Republic. Standard French is the most spoken version of the language and has been the official language of France since the 16th century. It is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. There are currently over 220 million French speakers over the world, and also 72 million so-called partial French speakers.
In Europe (except France), the largest populations of French speakers are in Belgium (45% of the population), Switzerland (20% of the population) and Luxembourg.
French in other countries
French is an official language of 29 countries and is the co-official language of several others, including Belgium, Canada, Haiti, Madagascar, and Switzerland. Other languages spoken within France include Breton (similar to Welsh) in Brittany; a German dialect in Alsace and Lorraine; Flemish in northeastern France; Spanish, Catalan, and Basque in the southwest; Provençal in the southeast, and an Italian dialect on the island of Corsica.
The number of French speakers has increased since 1945 largely since most former French and Belgian colonies kept French as their language of government, education and science after decolonization. This version is based on the dialect of Paris and although there are other versions of the language, they’re often similar and will be understood by those people who do speak standard French.
The regional languages of France are sometimes called patois (dialect), but this term is often considered derogatory. Patois is used to refer to supposedly purely oral languages.
It is interesting to know that
- around 6 and 11 million of Americans speak French, as does half the population of Algeria, and 15 percent of Israelis;
- about a third to a half of basic English words come from French, including pedigree, surf, view, strive, challenge, pride, staunch and war;
- French has more than a million words and 20,000 new ones are created every year;
- Kinshasa is the world’s second largest French speaking city, after Paris, and before Montreal and Brussels.