French Speaking Countries in Africa & Europe

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Along with English and Spanish, French has greatly expanded due to colonialism. Its once-status as a global language for diplomacy and culture has been replaced by English. However, while French is not in the top 10 languages of the world, it is still unusually important in Africa and Europe and only expected to grow in the future.

Why Is French Spoken in Both Europe and Africa?

Although it doesn't make the top five (Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic), or even the top 10 (Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese with Punjabi, Javanese and German fighting it for 10th place), French has a disproportionate amount of influence in the world.

French-speaking world
French-speaking World

Prior to English, French was the standard language for art, literature, and diplomacy. In pursuing an imperialistic policy of French administration and French-language education in its colonies, French, much like English and Spanish, became an official or widely-spoken language in parts of Asia, where it has mostly died out, North and South America, in Canada and colonies, and in Africa. In Africa, where various languages have made French a lingua franca, or common language, it is an essential means of communication between nations.


Obviously, France is the home of many French speakers on Earth. This was not always the case. French was not the standard language of France until the early 16th century. Much like Old English, which evolved after foreign invasions and influence from other languages, the French we understand today comes from the Paris region. It is asked whether France made French or French made France. Either way, the language was instrumental in unifying the French people and the idea of France as a state.

In Europe, other large areas where French is spoken include Belgium and Switzerland. Both countries are linguistic oddities. In Belgium, more prosperous Dutch and the less-industrialized French Walloon, have butted heads for most of Belgian history. In Switzerland, there is more linguistic peace. German (65%), French (25%), Italian (8%) and Romansh (1-2%) make Switzerland a linguistic challenge. Many speak English in both countries as a bridge language.

Monaco, the tiny but independent principality that sits completely surrounded by France on all sides except for the Mediterranean, speaks French as well.

Differences between European French and African French

In Africa, there are many countries that use French to varying degrees of officialdom. French is an official language, or shares official status with other languages in Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Burundi, Guinea, Chad, Rwanda, Congo, Mali, the Seychelles, Djibouti and Senegal. In Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and even Egypt, French is still widely spoken among the upper classes.

French-speaking Africa

In Europe, French is much more standardized, and there are only relatively small differences between the French of France and the French of Belgium and Switzerland. However, in Africa, French has many dialects and regional differences. These differences in African French include wide variations in pronunciation and vocabulary, but are generally broken down into northern, Arabic French, west and central African French, and the French spoken in far-eastern Africa in Djibouti.

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