It’s difficult to say what exactly makes French exude a kind of undeniable magnetism. Is it its melody and unique liltingness, aristocratic past or the reputation of being the most romantic language in the world? The popularity of French as a foreign language has by no means diminished, and the knowledge of French is useful not only when travelling to the country on the Seine. Where else will we be able to test the skills developed during a language course?
The phrase “French-speaking countries” brings to mind, first and foremost, France, Canada, Switzerland and, as an afterthought, Belgium. As a matter of fact, however, French is spoken worldwide by more than 230 million people on three continents, and it can be heard in many different parts of the world. Today, we’re going to see where in the world people speak French.
Not only France and Canada: where else do we use French?
Although the modern significance of French language, culture, and political influences has decreased as compared to the 19th century, we can learn a lot about the former power of the French empire by taking a closer look at any map… with a particular focus on the places in which French is still the dominant language. Apart from European countries (in which the number of French language users amounts to almost 70 million) and a French-speaking province of Canada (around 40 million people), French is the official language for almost 100 million of Africans (though, according to some estimations, this number is as high as 140 million).
In African countries, French is usually just one of the several languages used. French is essential for commerce and business in many port cities of the Gulf of Guinea, and it prevails in the capital cities of Cameroon and Gabon, but, what’s interesting, it’s not easily heard among all the inhabitants of Tunisia, Morocco or Algeria. In these countries, French and Arabic are equally popular, and the former is acquired as the first language mainly by the upper class.
As the language of colonisers, French reached not only continental Africa; it is used by the inhabitants of islands that constitute popular holiday destinations, such as Madagascar or Seychelles.
It also remains popular as an additional foreign language and makes it into the top five modern foreign languages chosen by the students who take their school-leaving exams in Poland. This brings up another question: is French easy? We tried to answer this question in one of the articles on our blog!
Where in Europe do we speak French?
Although French brings to mind the apparent associations with the City of Light, lavender fields that stretch off the horizon and the whole array of highs and lows that can be experienced in France, we can also test our language skills in other countries, such as neighbouring Belgium. Historical factors and the long-standing French domination are the reasons why French is the official language in Wallonia, and, even if the communication between the French and Belgians doesn’t pose many problems, the differences on the lexical level might lead to (often hilarious) mix-ups.
French is also one of the four official languages of Switzerland, but it is dominant merely in some of the cantons. Located to the West, Romandy includes the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura; moreover, in the cantons of Freiburg, Valais and Bern, French is a co-official language alongside German. Apart from subtle lexical differences, Swiss French is not that different from the standard one.
The influences of French are even more pronounced in the two countries where it is the official language: in Monaco and Luxembourg. In the latter, what plays a part in the domination of French is the number of the French and Belgians employed in many essential areas of economy, such as banking, business and hospitality. The presence of French in Monaco is not surprising at all when we take into account the fact that for many years the principality was a part of France. Currently, French is its official language, but the cosmopolitan character of one of the smallest countries in the world ensures that all of the world’s languages can be heard there. This does not come as a surprise as soon as we remember that Monaco is widely considered to be a tax haven.
French in Quebec – necessary for survival or not?
In Canada, more than 7 million people speak French, among whom 6.5 million live in the French-speaking province of Quebec. The active policy of local authorities promoting the use of French in professional environment, in the media as well as in everyday situations aims at reinforcing the position of the language which started to lose its popularity due to the growing ubiquity of English. Right now, the knowledge of French is requisite if we want to settle down in Quebec, and speaking the language, and not English, while travelling through the region is in good taste and is a reflection of one’s respect towards local history and traditions. If we want to take up a job in this province, the knowledge of French will surely open doors and help us find a more attractive position.
If we learnt French in Europe, the standard variation of French will be closer to us; however, it differs in many aspects from the so-called Québécois. Substantial differences may be noticed in tone, pronunciation (for one thing, the Canadian variation has two more vowel sounds) as well as accent. Distinct nasalisation of vowels will be noticeable even for those not sensitive to linguistic nuances.
This is not the end of differences: Canadian French developed separately from the standard language, yet what heavily influenced this variation were the words borrowed from the Indigenous languages as well as, of course, English. Thus, before we make a decision to move to another continent, motivated solely by our knowledge of the language, we should weight the pros and cons; the differences between European and Canadian French are not so insignificant.
International Organisation of La Francophonie – what is it and what are its goals?
Inspired by the Commonwealth, French-speaking countries decided to establish an organisation uniting the nations and users of the French language all over the world. Its focus, however, is put on the promotion of the French language and culture, and the organisation includes not only the countries in which French is the governing language but also those in which many inhabitants speak French – or those which especially appreciate Francophone culture. Its motto, “égalité, complémentarité, solidarité”, refers to the French motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité”.
Localisation of translations into and from French
Tailoring a translation to the readership’s expectations seems obvious when we work on an English text; eliminating differences between the British and American variations will help to avoid problematic vagueness or awkwardness and will bring the text closer to the reader. Translations from and into French are worth being addressed in a similar manner: choosing the proper variation will certainly benefit the text. Alingua Translation Agency cooperates with linguists and native speakers from all over the world while allowing for seamless communication between business partners and making every effort to ensure that prepared translations meet our clients’ expectations. A short conversation with one of our consultants will help us choose the best specialist for completing your order! Contact us or visit our agency.