This image shows a group of French flags on a balcony.

A Complete Guide to French-Speaking Countries

Maria Claudia Alvarado Published on July 9, 2024

France might be the most well-known French-speaking country, but did you know that this is a language you can use to communicate on 4 different continents? From North America to Africa, in this guide, you’ll learn where French is spoken worldwide. And, to make sure you understand why learning French is important, we’ll also explore how it became a global language and its role in the world today.

How Many People In The World Speak French?

There are around 321 million French speakers in the world, which makes French the 5th most spoken language. Not all French speakers live in France, though. The French language has crossed European borders and is now spoken as an official language on 4 different continents. 

In total, there are 27 countries around the world where French is the official language. In addition, French is also spoken in 12 overseas territories in Africa, North America, South America, and Oceania. And it’s no surprise that French is popular in places where it’s not been made official. But there are many countries that don’t speak French as a national language but still have an important number of French speakers. For example, you’re likely to find many French speakers are Mali, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Where Do People Speak French Around the World?

The French language has a huge reach because of France’s colonialist history. Below, we break down where exactly it’s spoken today by continent and by country. You’ll also see how much of each country’s population speaks French. 

This image shows a list of different French-speaking countries around the world.

French Speaking Countries in Europe

French became the official language of France in the 16th century and soon spread to neighboring countries, mostly through literature. As a result of this, French is also the official language in Switzerland and Luxembourg. But there are other reasons why French is spoken outside of France as well. For example, Belgium and Monaco speak French because they were under French rule in the past. 

Here’s a table that shows the population of each French-speaking country in Europe:

CountryPopulation
France64.5 million
Belgium11.9 million
Monaco31.6 million
Luxembourg~661,000
Switzerland8.6 million

French-Speaking Countries in Africa

Africa is the continent with the most Francophone countries. This might seem strange at first, but it isn’t too surprising considering Africa’s history of French and Belgian colonization. In total, there are 19 Francophone African countries where French is an official language. On this continent, French has been adapted and is spoken both traditionally (“Metropolitan French”) and in dialects. Fun fact: While France has the highest number of French speakers, the Democratic Republic of Congo occupies the second place with very little difference! 

Here’s a table of the 19 African countries that speak French as an official language. Keep in mind that some of these countries have other official languages that are more prevalent. For example, Arabic is an official language in Chad and Djibouti, so the percentage of French speakers represents only a small part of their population:

CountryPopulation
Benin14.2 million
Burundi13.2 million
Cameroon30.1 million
Chad18.5 million
Comoros~888,000
Republic of the Congo5.7 million
Côte d’Ivoire29.3 million
Djibouti~976,000
Equatorial Guinea1.7 million
Gabon2.4 million
Guinea13.6 million
Madagascar28.8 million
Niger25.4 million
Rwanda13.4 million
Senegal18.4 million
Seychelles~98,000
The Central African Republic5.5 million
The Democratic Republic of Congo111.8 million
Togo8.7 million
Public transportation in Dakar, Senegal
Public transportation in Dakar, Senegal

French-Speaking Countries in North America and the Caribbean

Many people wonder why French is mostly spoken in Quebec and New Brunswick and it’s not as popular in the rest of Canada. The French language was introduced to the Americas during French colonization. Both New Brunswick and Quebec were part of the territory conquered by the French. This area was called New France. And even though these provinces later belonged to the British Empire, they were allowed to keep French as their primary language.

We see quite the opposite case in the Caribbean. Similar to Canada, Haiti was also under French control. However, while French is an official language in Haiti, only a small percentage of Haitians speak French. Instead, most Haitians prefer to speak Haitian Creole which is a language that evolved from the mix of French and African languages present on the island.

Here’s a table that shows you the two countries that speak French in this region:

CountryPopulation
Canada38.5 million
Haiti11.5 million

French-Speaking Countries of Oceania

There’s only one country in Oceania that uses French as an official language. In the 18th century, the United Kingdom and France colonized Vanuatu, which was part of the New Hebrides islands. Presently, schools still teach both English and French, and people speak these languages alongside indigenous languages like Bislama. However, small groups of people mostly speak French in the southern islands.

Here’s a table with the number of population for Vanuatu:

CountryPopulation
Vanuatu~313,000
This image shows a group of houses in Bora Bora, French Polynesia.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia

French Overseas Territories

France might have left its days as a colonizer behind, but there are still a fair number of French territories overseas. In total, there are 12 territories in Africa, North America, South America, Oceania, and Antarctica. Most of the population in these territories are native French speakers, but there are also some indigenous languages still active and Creole languages that evolved from French like Antillean Creole. In the case of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, there are no native inhabitants on the islands since they are used by the French government for scientific research.

Here’s a table with the populations of France’s 12 overseas territories:

CountryPopulation
French Guiana~311,000
French Polynesia~301,000
Guadeloupe~371,600
Martinique~343,700
Mayotte~326,700
New Caledonia~300,700
Réunion~879,500
Saint Barthélemy~7,000
Saint-Martin~32,900
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon~5,100
Wallis and Futuna~15,900
French Southern and Antarctic Lands

Where French is Widely Spoken (But Not an Official Language)

French is one of the most popular languages in the world, so don’t be surprised if you hear it in countries even where it isn’t an official language. Some countries like Burkina Faso and Mali were once French colonies. As a result, French is still widely spoken in these territories, but it isn’t an official language anymore. 

French is also common in countries neighboring France, like Italy, Germany, and Andorra. The French language was also adopted in some European countries that had a history of war or trade with France, like the United Kingdom. 

Here’s the population in each of these countries:

CountryPopulation
Burkina Faso22.5 million
Mali21.3 million
Andorra85,468
Netherlands17.5 million
Italy61 million
Germany84.2 million
Portugal10.2 million
United Kingdom68.1 million

How the French Language is Different Around the World

French is a widespread language and it’s been adapted to fit the needs of French speakers around the world. For example, languages like German, Flemish, and English have influenced the French spoken in other European countries due to proximity or popularity. In continents like Africa and North America, indigenous languages have also helped shape the French spoken by its speakers. Because of this, there are many French dialects and even Creole languages that derive from French.

One of the easiest differences to spot between Metropolitan French and the French used in other countries is how to count. In France, you need to add the number sixty to other numbers to say 70 to 79. For example, 60 is soixante. To say 70, you add ten: soixante-dix (sixty-ten), and 75 is soixante-quinze (sixty-fifteen).

If that wasn’t complicated enough, you even have to multiply to get some numbers. 80 is quatre-vingts (four-twenties) and 90 is quatre-vingt-dix (four-twenty-ten)

Counting in French is much easier in countries like Belgium or Canada, where adding and multiplication are rarely needed to say numbers. In Belgium, 90 has its own word nonante – no math required!

But these differences aren’t exclusive to the numbers. These are some French vocabulary words that might vary depending on the country you visit:

FrenchCanadian FrenchBelgian FrenchEnglish Meaning
DéjeunerDînerSouperLunch
BoissonBreuvageBoissonDrink
Chewing-gumGommeChiqueGum
Sac à mainSacocheSac à mainPurse
Pomme de terrePatatePomme de terre/PatatePotato

Despite these differences, French speakers can understand each other without too much difficulty. While most of the differences you’ll encounter have to do with vocabulary and daily expressions, it’s also possible to find variations in grammar. English and French coexist as two of the most spoken languages in the world. Because of this, it makes sense that both have adopted vocabulary from one another. These are some English verbs that French speakers normally use:

-Shopping / Faire du shopping

-Recycle / Recycler

-Chat / Chatter

-Scan / Scanner

Remember that English uses many borrowed words from French, which is one of the reasons French is easy to learn for English speakers. However, how long it takes you to learn French depends on many factors like the level you want to reach and if you speak any other Romance languages. If you want to know how long it will take you to reach your French goals, you can try our Fluency Calculator below to get a personalized answer:

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How French Became a Global Language

In the 16th century, King François I made French the official language of France. Then, he ordered it to be taught in schools and used to translate important documents originally written in Latin. As a result of education, the French language soon crossed the borders of France and became popular in neighboring European countries. At the same time, French colonizers were arriving in the Americas and the Asian continent, bringing the language with them. 

Throughout its history, France has colonized and influenced over 40 countries worldwide. Although most of these countries are no longer under French control, their populations still speak the language. This widespread usage means that French is spoken on almost every continent. As a result, French is an important language for worldwide communication.

The Global Importance of French Today

Global communication is one of the main reasons why people choose to learn French. In addition to the places where it is an official language, French is also spoken as a lingua franca by communities of people around the world. For example, in Africa, French speakers use the language to communicate with indigenous communities. French is also a lingua franca in Europe, where many people speak it as a first or second language.

French is also an important language in global organizations like the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the EU, French is spoken as both an official and working language. It’s used to deliberate in the European Court of Justice, where all documents must also be printed in French. This allows members of the EU to make well-informed decisions. NATO has also named French an official language in the organization so all French-speaking members can participate in diplomatic events.

Learn More French with Langoly

French is a global language with a rich history and culture. For years, it has made communication possible for people all around the world. And, it has also helped shape the identity of communities in different countries. Whether it is for travel, political interests, or simply for interaction, learning French is definitely worthwhile. However, how long it takes you to learn French depends on how much time you spend studying the language. The more you study French, the quicker you’ll be able to communicate with the rest of the world.

To learn more about French or to start studying it, be sure to check out Langoly’s French Hub!

Maria Claudia Alvarado

Maria Alvarado is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She graduated from the Savannah College of Arts and Design in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing. She is fluent in Spanish and English, has intermediate knowledge of French and German, and is learning Japanese. She hopes to bring consciousness about the importance of language learning through her articles and aspires to learn as many languages as possible.

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