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French Speaking Countries You Maybe Never Knew Existed

French Speaking Countries You Maybe Never Knew Existed

With 270 million speakers and 29 Francophone nations, French learners can put their language skills to use on every continent. If you’re wondering where to find global Francophones, we’ve compiled a quick guide to French speaking countries and territories worldwide.

French Speaking Countries

French Speaking Countries – Where do people speak French?

Most estimates point to around 300 million French speakers globally.

The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie quotes a high of 321 million, although they happily count anyone who speaks French. Only 100 million are considered native French speakers.

The other 200 million speak French as a second language, including Creole and other dialects with French roots.

Even so, French is around the 5th most spoken global language. And somehow remains the second most studied language (a relief for this website!).

Justifying those language lessons are projections that French is among the fastest-growing languages. According to Forbes, there could be 750 million French Speakers by 2050, fueled by a population boom in francophone sub-Saharan Africa.

Perhaps the most startling fact — one to pocket for a trivia night — is that there are more francophones in the Democratic Republic of Congo (population: 96 million) than in France (population: 68 million).

Image of world with highlighted French speaking countries.
Own work; derived from File:BlankMap-World-Sovereign_Nations.svg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

French speaking countries by continent

French was once the global lingua franca. Today, only 29 countries use French as an official or co-official language. In contrast, English is a de jure official language in 58 states and 28 non-sovereign territories. In both cases, it’s a colonial legacy.

A handful of semi-autonomous territories boost the number of French-speaking regions. A prime example is Jersey, the British crown Dependency in the English Channel, which has deep French roots.

Pockets of French speakers are found globally, notably in island nations that ensure French has a base on every continent.

And with so many nations speaking French, the language remains in use at the United Nations, NATO, European Union, and countless other international organizations.

Let’s take a flying tour around the French speaking countries and territories keeping the language alive today.

French speaking countries in Europe

List of French speaking countries in Europe

Naturally, we start with Europe and France. French evolved from Vulgar Latin to become the official European language of trade and diplomacy for centuries.

The continent’s winding and often painful history made French an official language in Belgium and Switzerland, home to sizeable regions with French heritage.

It is also a co-official language of Luxembourg, widely preferred over German and Luxembourgish for business and administration needs.

And, of course, French is the official language of the tiny sovereign city-state of Monaco.

Curiously, London is home to 300,000 + French speakers, earning it the title of “France’s sixth-largest city.” Pre-Brexit, at least.

Overall, there are 5 European countries where French is an official language. And spoken by close to 20% of EU citizens.

French speaking countries in Africa

French speaking countries in Africa

There are more French speakers in Africa than in any other continent, and those numbers are only going up.

Speaking a mix of dialects collectively known as African French, there are 34 Francophone countries and sovereign territories across the continent.

Invariably, French is a secondary language. Yet remains the lingua franca for business and politics in countries with multiple official languages.

Fluency varies by country, class, and ethnic group. In northern African countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, for example, French is usually the preserve of the middle and upper classes.

The continent’s fourth most populous state, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is also home to the largest number of French speakers at 72+ million.

The distinction of the highest proportion of French speakers goes to Gabon, where 80% of citizens speak French natively. Meanwhile, Portuguese-speaking Mozambique counts under 99,000 Francophones, just 0.3% of the population.

French speaking countries in North America

French speaking countries in North America

North America is home to the leading francophone population outside Africa and Europe. Nearly all speak with a Canadian twang.

Not only is French a Canadian official language, it is the sole official language of Quebec.

Nearly 23% of Canadians speak French at home, and around 30% of the population can converse in the language. That number spikes in Quebec, where 85% of the resolutely independent locals exclusively use French.

Although even that falls short of the 100% Francophones on tiny Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the self-governing French territory off Newfoundland.

US citizens still fly the Tricolore here and there. Overall, around 1.3 million people in the US speak French daily, according to US census data.

Unsurprisingly, Louisiana is the most welcoming place for the langue française. The state may have been sold by France for a snip in 1803. Yet, an estimated 120,000 Louisianians still speak Louisiana French today.

French speaking countries in the Caribbean

French speaking countries in the Caribbean

Another imperial legacy is the export of French to the Caribbean.

The French West Indies — Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin — are French overseas territories (DROM) where French Creole is also widely spoken.

The only sovereign Caribbean country with French as an official language is Haiti, where it serves as the lingua franca of business and administration. Haiti also recognizes Haitian Creole, a more common vernacular and descendant of the French language.

French speaking countries in Oceania

French speaking countries in Oceania.

The South Pacific islands are the final place to discover enduring Francophone regions.

While many regional nation-states inherited the English language, several islands fell under French colonial rule.

Naturally, French is the official language of her Pacific overseas territories, namely New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna.

But there is also a notable percentage of French speakers in Vanuatu, where it is an official language and spoken as a (chiefly second) language by 30% of the population.

South America

You won’t encounter many native French speakers south of Mexico. Except in the all-too-obvious French Guiana.

The lightly populated region is an overseas French department (DROMDépartement et région d’outre-mer). Although technically France’s largest region, with a population of 301,000, there are probably more native French speakers in London.

Asia

Asia is home to very few Francophone communities. Understandably, the former countries of French Indochina — Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia — dropped it as an official language.

Despite declining use, older generations and businesses in Laos and Cambodia still rely on French, even while younger generations choose English as a second language to learn.

Unexpectedly, French remains an official language in a union territory of India, Puducherry. Although barely spoken by residents, the Bengalese city was at the heart of a collection of enclaves that once comprised French India.

Over in the Middle East lies one more gallic legacy in Lebanon. Once ruled by a French mandate, the colonial language is spoken by around 50% of Lebanese today. Arabic is the sole official language, but French is still widely used by businesses and administrators.

Antarctica

We couldn’t leave Antarctica off our list of French-speaking regions. No need for jokes about penguins who’ve discovered Duolingo, as France has claimed Terre Adélie, a sliver of Antarctica sandwiched between other dubious territorial claims.

It’s safe to say that the Robert Guillard Station in Terre Adélie is 100% Francophone. That’s up to 80 French speakers in summer (33 in winter), making it one of the largest yet least inhabited Francophone regions worldwide. Until the penguins catch up, anyway.

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Dan Forsythe

A politics and history graduate with a technical writing background and based in France, Dan writes amazing articles for all things French. An insatiable traveler, Dan has crisscrossed France, Europe, and beyond. When he’s not hiking or falling down historical rabbit holes, Dan sips tea and writes technical pieces or blog posts about travel, history, and life in his adopted home.

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