Picture French

French speaking countries

French is an official language in 39 countries and is partly spoken as a mother tongue in 7 other countries. The French language (native name: français, langue française) has its roots in the Indo-European language family.

As a percentage of the total population, the largest share of around 94 percent is in France. A total of about 97.6 million people worldwide speak French as their mother tongue.
Just around 97.6 million people speak French as their mother tongue. French is also considered a world language and is therefore the official or common language in many countries. Thus, there are over 300 million speakers. French is also taught as a foreign language in many countries.

The most important distribution areas within Europe are, besides France itself, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Monaco. There are also large parts of Africa, Canada, Oceania, the Caribbean and the islands in the Indian Ocean.

Distribution French

Origins of the French language

Picture French The French language has its origins in the time of the ancient Roman Empire with the Celts, Aquitaines and Belgers. With the spread of Latin and Romanization enforced by Rome, the language families became unified and formed a common basis for trade relations throughout the territory of present-day France and its neighbouring regions.
Significant increases in the number of speakers were recorded in and after the 17th century, when French became the language of the nobility and the educated, even in other parts of what is incidentally Europe and Russia.

Spread through colonisation

From the beginning of the 16th century until the late 19th century, France was one of the largest colonial powers. France initially claimed large parts of today's USA, Canada and numerous Caribbean states for itself. This was followed by further takeovers in large parts of Africa and the Pacific Ocean. The islands around Madagascar and parts of India, Vietnam and Combodia were also annexed. With these colonial areas and protectorates, the French language spread around the globe and is still the official and everyday language in many countries.

It was only with the rise of the British Empire in the 19th century and the development of the United States of America into a great power that France lost political influence and as a result gave up some of its colonies. Since then, the importance of the French language has also declined, while English is steadily gaining in international importance.

CountryRegionOfficial languageDistributionTotal
FranceWestern Europeyes93.6 %63,414,000
CanadaNorth Americayes22.0 %8,414,000
HaitiCaribbeanyes42.0 %4,808,000
BelgiumWestern Europeyes41.1 %4,765,000
Democratic Republic of the CongoCentral Africayes4.3 %4,123,000
United States of AmericaNorth Americano0.7 %2,323,000
SwitzerlandWestern Europeyes21.3 %1,854,000
MaliWestern Africayes6.4 %1,402,000
CameroonCentral Africayes3.0 %816,000
MadagascarEastern Africayes2.3 %665,000
TogoWestern Africayes7.2 %622,000
Ivory CoastWestern Africayes2.1 %577,000
Central African RepublicCentral Africayes7.5 %409,000
ChadCentral Africayes2.3 %395,000
MartiniqueCaribbeanyes80.0 %316,000
ItalySouthern Europeno0.5 %296,000
Burkina FasoWestern Africayes1.3 %287,000
GuineaWestern Africayes2.1 %284,000
NigerWestern Africayes1.1 %278,000
Republic of the CongoCentral Africayes4.6 %268,000
SenegalWestern Africayes1.4 %236,000
French PolynesiaPolynesiayes61.1 %186,000
ComorosEastern Africayes12.9 %106,000
BeninWestern Africayes0.8 %104,000
New CaledoniaMelanesiayes34.3 %93,000
GuadeloupeCaribbeanyes20.0 %91,000
New ZealandAustralia/New Zealandno1.2 %61,000
French GuianaSouth Americayes30.7 %56,000
MayotteEastern Africayes20.3 %52,000
MauritiusEastern Africano4.1 %52,000
GabonCentral Africayes2.0 %47,000
Equatorial GuineaCentral Africayes2.4 %39,000
BurundiEastern Africayes0.3 %38,000
LuxembourgWestern Europeyes4.2 %27,000
DjiboutiEastern Africayes1.8 %20,000
Principality of MonacoWestern Europeyes41.9 %15,000
Sao Tome and PrincipeCentral Africano6.8 %15,000
RwandaEastern Africayes0.1 %13,000
Virgin IslandsCaribbeanno6.6 %7,000
Saint BarthelemyCaribbeanyes80.0 %6,000
AndorraSouthern Europeno6.2 %5,000
ReunionEastern Africayes0.7 %5,000
Saint MartinCaribbeanyes9.0 %3,000
VanuatuMelanesiayes0.6 %2,000
Wallis and FutunaPolynesiayes10.8 %2,000
SeychellesEastern Africayes0.7 %700

Unless otherwise described in the text, this page is about native speakers — not the total number of speakers. How many people understand or speak French as a subsequently learned language is not the subject of this page. Countries where native speakers make up only a few thousand, or even a few hundred people, or countries with a percentage well below 1% are unlikely to be listed here.