French Speaking Countries around the World
Although France may be one of the world’s smaller countries, it’s colonial influence around the world was vast. There are numerous French speaking countries in Africa, Europe, and beyond. Reaching across the world, the French language has around 270 million speakers, but only around 75 million of them are native speakers. This puts French around the 10th largest language in the world!
Where is French spoken?
It may come as a surprise that the biggest region of French speakers is not Europe or the Americas, but actually Africa!
Because of France’s colonial reign between the 19th and 20th centuries, the French language spread across many North and West African countries, and even became the official language of some.
As of 2019, French is one of the official languages of 29 countries worldwide. Although some of these countries have more than one official language, French is a common second language around the world. To understand the regions better, here is a breakdown by continent:
French Speakers In Europe:
Find below a list of French speaking countries in Europe
- Capital City: Paris
- Number of Native Speakers: 60 million
- Characteristics of French from France: The French dialect that is spoken in Paris is considered to be standard French.
- Unique French words/phrases: avoir le seum, mec, oklm, and laisse tomber are some common slang words used in France
- Capital City: Brussels
- Number of Native Speakers: 4.5 million
- Characteristics of Belgian French: In Belgium, their french has a few words that have Dutch influence. It is also thought that the dialect can be affected based on education and class levels.
- Unique French words/phrases: pain français – baguette, couque au chocolat – chocolate bread
- Capital City: Bern
- Number of Native Speakers: 1.9 million
- Characteristics of Swiss French: Numbers are spoken very differently in Switzerland, and even made easier. Although not varying far from France’s French, Swiss French has some German influence.
- Unique French words/phrases: septante- seventy, nonante – ninety
- Capital City: Monte Carlo
- Number of Native Speakers: 14,000
- Characteristics of Monegasque French: Because Monaco is such a small country, its influences from other countries (besides France) are small.
- Unique French words/phrases: Unknown
- Capital City: Luxembourg City
- Number of Native Speakers: 94,000
- Characteristics of Luxembourg French: Although there aren’t many differences in the French that Luxembourgers use, when they speak there is a certain accent that can be heard. This accent comes from Luxembourg’s own language, Luxembourgish.
- Unique French words/phrases: dagobert – sandwich, horeca – hotel or restaurant
French Speakers In Africa
Find below a list of French speaking countries in Europe
- Capital City: Porto-Novo
- Number of Native Speakers: 4 million
- Characteristics of Beninese French: There are hardly any recordings of differences in Beninese French, besides having a slight African influence.
- Unique French words/phrases: doigter- show the way, rapport oral – express oneself
- Capital City: Ouagadougou
- Number of Native Speakers: 2.85 million
- Characteristics of Burkinabé French: The Burkinabé dialect of French has been transformed because only about 15% of the population uses French on a daily basis. French is used in the public and government sectors, and also taught in schools. Burkinabé French has Pidgin and Creole influences.
- Unique French words/phrases: c’est comment? – how’s it going?, on dit quoi? – what’s up?
- Capital City: Gitega
- Number of Native Speakers: Between 300,000 and 1 million
- Characteristics of BurundianFrench: Burundi’s French is heavily influenced by the other official language, Kirundi, as well as Belgian French.
- Unique French words/phrases: septante- seventy, nonante – ninety (just like in Switzerland!)
- Capital City: Yaoundé
- Number of Native Speakers: 6 million
- Characteristics of CameroonianFrench: In addition to French, Cameroonians speak Pidgin English, which influences their French. French and English are both the official languages of the country, so the Cameroonian government encourages leaning both.
- Unique French words/phrases: “je n’ai pas mangé depuis” – I haven’t eaten in a while
Central African Republic (co-official)
- Capital City: Bangui
- Number of Native Speakers: 1 million
- Characteristics of Central African French: Similar to Cameroon and Chad, CAR’s French has changed because of the local languages, but in this case, French has influenced their native language, Sango, too.
- Unique French words/phrases: “Mbï descend na Bangui” – “I go down to Bangui”
- Capital City: N’Djamena
- Number of Native Speakers: 2 million
- Characteristics of Chadian French: The largest difference between standard French and Chadian French is found when changing the masculine or feminine nouns.
- Unique French words/phrases: le/la – him/her
- Capital City: Moroni
- Number of Native Speakers: Around 8,000 (less than 1%!)
- Characteristics of Comorian French: Because of the extreme poverty and illiteracy in Comoros, it is hard to track the use of language within the country. French is an “administrative langauge” in Comoros, but not spoken widely.
Congo (Republic of Congo)
- Capital City: Brazzaville
- Number of Native Speakers: 1.5 million
- Characteristics of Congolese French: The Congolese people are masters at code-switching. They learn and use French informal settings, but speak in public with a mix of French and Bantu languages.
- Unique French words/phrases: ambianceur – man who goes out partying, boire – bad performance (in school)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Capital City: Kinshasa
- Number of Native Speakers: 33 million
- Characteristics of Congolese French: Similar to the Republic of Congo’s dialect of French, Congolese from the DRC also are able to code-switch. Their French has even more of an outside influence because of the size of the country.
- Unique French words/phrases: deuxième bureau – mistress, taupage/tauperie – corrupt politician
- Capital City: Yamoussoukro
- Number of Native Speakers: 10 million
- Characteristics of Ivorian French: French is spoken widely, but there are 3 versions of French that Ivorian people speak. One has become another language itself, called Nouchi, which has been spread because of popular culture and remains informal.
- Unique French words/phrases: agbolo – beefy, gaou – slob
- Capital City: Djibouti City
- Number of Native Speakers: 17,000
- Characteristics of Djiboutian French: Djibouti’s French is undeniably influenced by Arabic, their other official language.
Equatorial Guinea (co-official)
- Capital City: Malabo
- Number of Native Speakers: 32,000
- Characteristics of Equatorial GuineanFrench: French is not spoken in the public in Equatorial Guniea except near the borders, but it is understood that their language would be close to Gabonian or Congolese French.
- Capital City: Libreville
- Number of Native Speakers: 1.6 million
- Characteristics of Gabonian French: Although small, Gabon’s French-speaking population is one of the largest percentages in all of Africa.
- Capital City: Conakry
- Number of Native Speakers: Between 1.9 and 3.1 million
- Characteristics of Guinean French: French is the only official language of Guinea, but has hints of Sengalese.
- Unique French words/phrases: There are many French words that come from Guinean origin: acharnément, coépouse, francose
- Capital City: Antananarivo
- Number of Native Speakers: 123,000
- Characteristics of Madagascan French: French in Madagascar is no longer widely spoken. It has been taken over by Malagasy despite French being a co-official language.
- Unique French words/phrases: / ɛ / changed to [e], / o /changed to [ɔ], and / a / is pronounced [ɑ]
- Capital City: Bamako
- Number of Native Speakers: 9,000
- Characteristics of Malian French: Mali has over 10 de facto languages, so French is becoming more and more uncommon. Compared to their most popular language, Bambara, French grammar is difficult for Malians.
- Unique French words/phrases: mousso – woman, “gni” instead of “ɲi”
- Capital City: Niamey
- Number of Native Speakers: 2.5 million
- Characteristics of Nigerois French: Although used administratively, French is mostly a second language to Nigerois people. Because of the position of the country, Nigerois French is similar to the Chadian and Malian accents.
- Capital City: Kigali
- Number of Native Speakers: 730,000
- Characteristics of Rwandan French: Although it remains an official language, French is becoming less common and been replaced with English throughout Rwanda.
- Capital City: Dakar
- Number of Native Speakers: 1.5 million
- Characteristics of Senegalese French: In Senegal, French is the only official language and it is the most common language spoken, although there is another language, Wolof, that gets mixed in.
- Unique French words/phrases: écritoire, tablier – both taken from French and used in Wolof
- Capital City: Victoria
- Number of Native Speakers: 6,700
- Characteristics of Seychellen French: The French spoken in Seychelles has become Creole.
- Unique French words/phrases: bonzour – hello, silvouple- please
- Capital City: Lome
- Number of Native Speakers: Around 2.7 million
- Characteristics of French from Togo: After many wars and struggles throughout the country, French is finally being reintroduced back into schools in Togo.
- Unique French words/phrases: la pluie – university scholarships, grèver – to strike, longtemps-longtemps – very long
French Speakers In North America
Find below a list of French speaking countries in North America
- Capital City: Ottawa
- Number of Native Speakers: 7.2 million
- Characteristics of Canadian French: Various Canadian providences use French as an official language. Canadian French is more closely related to the Belgian and Swiss French.
- Unique French words/phrases: déjeuner – breakfast, une boisson – alcoholic drink
- Capital City: Port-au-Prince
- Number of Native Speakers: 549,000
- Characteristics of Haitian French: Haitian French is very closely related to standard French, but like other countries, it has evolved into its own language with French influences (Haitian Creole).
- Unique French words/phrases: zamis – my friends (mes amis),
French Speaking Islands and Territories
In addition to the 29 French speaking countries listed above, there are a handful more of French speaking islands and territories that are part of France where people speak French.
These overseas territories are considered to be a very important part of France, and their residents are represented in France’s government and are able to vote in France’s elections.
Of these territories, the majority of them have French listed as an official language, but also have their own dialects of French-based Creole. These countries are:
Dominica, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, New Caledonia, Martinique, Réunion, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna
Countries where French is an Unofficial Language
There are also many other French speaking countries around the world that consider French to be an unofficial or de facto language. Though it may not be an official language in these countries, French is widely used.
Reflecting the list of countries above, most unofficial French speaking countries are located within Africa because of 19 and 20th century colonialism.
They include: Andorra, Algeria, Laos, Lebanon, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, and Tunisia
Can all French speakers understand each other?
For the most part, yes! Unlike some other languages, the accents and variations do not prohibit the speakers from understanding each other.
Although there are many accents and outside influences, France is generally standardized.
Compared to other world languages, French is “controlled” by the Académie française, or the French Academy. The Academy is a governing body that tries to unite French speakers under the same literary standards. Of course, the Academy cannot fully control the influence of other languages on French, but it does its best to standardize the French language around the world.
In addition to the French Academy, there is also the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of the Francophone) in which French-speaking countries around the world can be members of. The intent of the organization is to promote French cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as other democratic and human rights developments.
So many countries where French is spoken!
So as you can see there are numerous French speaking countries in Africa, Europe, and across the rest of the world either as an official language or non-official language.
The French language is and will most likely remain one of the most predominate languages in the world. If you are looking for French resources for kids, we have a French Learning Series on the website, make sure to check it out!