Linguistic Cooperation: A Multifaceted Agent of French Influence
French language policies form one of the foundations of French foreign cultural initiatives. The development of cultural and scientific exchanges goes hand in hand with the promotion of the French language, an essential component of the policy of influence around the world. The Observatoire de la langue française of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF) publishes an annual report on the situation of French and its evolution in the world. This report attempts to estimate the number of French speakers, the teaching of French through the medium of the French language, and the international dimension of the language. It benefits from contributions from the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, as well as the diplomatic and cultural network.
This study by the OIF includes member and observer countries – less than half use French as the official language – but also countries not in the OIF where the number of practising French speakers is significant, such as in Algeria, with 11.2 million, Israel, with about 500,000, and the United States, where 2.1 million speak French.
In total, over 220 million people can be defined as francophone – up by 10 per cent from 2007 – foremost in Europe, with 40 per cent of the total, followed by sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean, with 36 percent, North Africa and the Middle East, with 15 per cent, the Americas and the Caribbean, with 8 per cent, with the remaining 1 per cent in Asia and Oceania.
The French language is the ninth most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian and Bengali. The OIF considers this statistic to be somewhat understated, in that it does not take account of the people from other countries who can express themselves in French or can understand the language: the number of people who can speak or understand French occasionally or partially is likely to be around 300 million.
The original aim of this study concerned the teaching of and in French. If French is the language of schools and higher education in francophone countries (teaching in French), it is also one of the very few foreign languages taught (teaching of French) in almost all the countries of the world – second only to English.