French is spoken by more people than ever
220 million worldwide, 20 million more than in 2007, according to a new report launched by the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) at its summit in Montreux, Switzerland, this month. With 96.2 million Africans speaking French at the moment, the OIF believes that rising rates of literacy and birth rates mean there could be 700 million French-speakers in the world by 2050.
The report takes into account the 70 member countries and observers of the organization, including Algeria, Israel, the U.S., and the Val d’Aosta, which joined this year.
About half of all French speakers live in an African country. However, this data is probably not completely accurate, since the statistics used include only people who understand, speak, read, and write French. Therefore, those who practice the language only orally have been excluded which may mean that the figure of 220 million French speakers is an underestimate — especially in Africa. The OIF has 56 members plus 14 observers, of which 26 are on the continent.
According to the OIF, Africa could represent over 85 percent of the Francophone world by 2050, if the population growth does not slow, and if literacy continues to improve thanks to increased schooling. The actual teaching of French will therefore be very important for the language’s development on the continent. Amazingly, the report finds that French as a foreign language is the second most frequently taught language in the world (116 million people are learning and programs are available in every single country worldwide), so there should be no shortage of role models.
The number of speakers of the language of Voltaire has increased in recent years thanks to the African population explosion. In many parts of Africa, French is the language of instruction, so its use should grow with the spread of education on the continent.
The head of the OIF’s observatory of the French language, Alexandre Wolff warns that the growth is far from guaranteed. French is a second language for most of its speakers, so it will only continue to flourish if countries keep it on their school syllabuses. “French is the mother tongue in a few countries: France, francophone Belgium, francophone Switzerland, Quebec and some Canadian provinces, Luxembourg and Monaco, i.e., 75 million people,” says Wolff.
If all the predictions that this will be Africa’s century prove true and its economic development really accelerates, then demand for French will skyrocket. Forward-thinkers are well-advised to start studying French now.