Africa: the future of the French language?
French is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, one of the few to be spoken on every continent, and ranked the sixth most widely spoken language after Mandarin Chinese (over a billion speakers), English, Hindi, Spanish, and Arabic. It is an official language of 29 countries, second only to English. There are currently over 220 million French speakers worldwide, including 72 million so-called “partial” French speakers. In Europe (outside of France), the largest populations of French speakers are found in Belgium (45% of the population), Switzerland (20% of the population) and Luxembourg. French is Europe’s second most widely spoken mother tongue with over 77 million speakers, after German but ahead of English.
The French language has never been limited to France and Paris – or even Europe, where it is actually forecast to become the most widely spoken mother tongue by 2025. With Africa’s history of colonization, it is a language used in 25 African countries and spoken to some extent by as many as 120 million Africans. Several African countries stand out as hubs for Francophones: the Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Chad, and the Central African Republic to name just a few. In each of these countries, French is the official language of the government; though its people speak it to varying degrees. For example, in the Congo, about 30% of its residents speak fluent French, together with Kituba, spoken by over 50 % of the Congolese population, and Lingala, the fastest growing language in the country.
By contrast, only 2 of the 14 million inhabitants of Chad use French as their second language, still considered to be the language of both government and education, and one of the country’s two official languages along with Arabic. The number of fluent French speakers increases to 22.5% of the population of the Central African Republic, which seems low considering it is an official language, used in formal situations and written documents, while Sango, a native language used for business throughout the country, is the primary mode of communication for over 90% of the population. The situation is completely different in Cameroon, where Francophones account for 83% of the population. The rest are mainly Anglophones since the country was a colony of both the United Kingdom and France between 1916 and 1960. However, the proportion of English speakers in Cameroon has been decreasing slowly.
What’s truly incredible about these countries is the sheer number of indigenous languages spoken by different groups. The continent of Africa provides an extremely diverse language environment, with as many as 2,000 independent languages; however, between these four countries alone, there is a range of over 1,700 languages spoken there by various ethnic groups. With this degree of linguistic diversity, it’s easy to understand why a common language such as French is needed in government, education, and medicine.
And while you might have been thinking that French was on the decline worldwide with the prevalence of English, Chinese and Spanish in various parts of the world, it turns out that French is projected to experience a huge surge, tripling to 750 million speakers by 2050, due to population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. This would make French the most commonly spoken language in the world, resulting in approximately 8% of the world’s population speaking French, whereas the representation of English could decline to as few as 3%!
So it may be a good idea to dust off those French text books, or turn to a French language specialist like Chang-Castillo and Associates to help reach French speakers. Need translation or interpretation services? Contact us today at +1 (877) 708-000 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to put together a competitive package to help you meet all your linguistic needs, in Africa, France, Canada – or anywhere is the world!