International Francophonie Day 2023: Where does the Francophone community stand?

Lyane Fleuriault

19 March 2023

Since 2010, when the Days of Languages were established by the United Nations, the 20th of March has been an important date for Francophonie each year because it is dedicated to celebrating the French language, the Francophone culture throughout the world, and all the values of solidarity and cooperation that unite the Francophone countries and peoples.

The Francophone community contains over 321 million people spread across five continents, who share the French language as an official, second or foreign language, and also share a common history, culture and values.

The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) aims to promote the French language and cultural diversity, to strengthen cultural and economic exchanges, to encourage cooperation, to support education, research and training in French, and to promote solidarity between its member countries.

If we analyze the Francophonie as it currently stands, with 321 million speakers in 2022, the French language remains the 5th most spoken language in the world (after English, Chinese, Hindi and Spanish). As a foreign language, French is the 2nd most learned language in the world, by more than 50 million people.

I first became fully aware of this when I started my career change project, with the aim of becoming a teacher of French as a foreign language. This desire to pass on languages came from my taste for literature, the French language and culture in general. After a 15-year career in the banking sector, I had the chance to move to the United States on two different occasions. It was an experience that changed my life... I improved my level of English considerably and, above all, I began studying to be able to teach French as a foreign language while trying my hand at training adults in companies.

After returning to France five years later, then a few years of questioning myself and preparing my new professional project, I finally took the plunge. I enrolled in a master’s degree in "Didactics of French as a Foreign Language", which I followed with a distance master's degree in "Didactics of Multilingualism". On this occasion, the web 2.0 technology tools I was learning about gave me the opportunity to work with other French-speaking students from Japan, Slovenia, Argentina... all of them passionate about the French language and culture.

I then trained in the neurolinguistic approach to language teaching in Quebec. There, I came to appreciate the importance of the French language, which, along with English, is one of Canada's two official languages, this duality being a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian identity. Throughout its history, Canada has adopted laws and implemented policies to better protect and promote these languages, even though today French is very much in the minority. The majority of French speakers are found in Quebec (82%), followed by New Brunswick (30%) and the Yukon (5%).

This disparity can lead to tensions between English and French-speaking communities and poses challenges in terms of bilingualism and the promotion of cultural diversity.

The European Union has not escaped this phenomenon. Indeed, since Brexit, with English now being the official language in only two member countries (Ireland and Malta), its dominant use to the detriment of national languages has provoked some strong reactions. This was accentuated by the health crisis, which led to the unprecedented use of video-conferencing tools to hold meetings in English. In the first half of 2022, measures were taken, and tools were put in place to rebalance the use of official languages.

With regards to the place and role of the French language worldwide, the goal is to make French one of the three most important languages in the world in the 21st century and an asset in globalization. To achieve this, measures to "learn, communicate and create" in French have been put in place.

The first challenge of this ambitious plan therefore concerns learning. Around 93 million pupils and students are taught in French throughout the world. Naturally, most are found in countries where French is the only official language (with a huge majority on the African continent). Next comes Europe, thanks to France, which accounts for 91% of European pupils taught in French, but also to the Wallonia-Brussels Federation in Belgium, French-speaking Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Monaco.

However, when we look at the demand for French language teaching, we notice a certain imbalance between the number of learners, which is increasing significantly in some parts of the world (Africa, America, Asia), and which is tending to decrease in Europe.

According to studies carried out over the last ten years, the greatest increase has been observed on the African continent, which means it’s safe to say that this is where the future of the French language lies.

The teaching of French as a foreign language greatly depends on whether the authorities of the country in question want to make the teaching of a second language compulsory. English is still frequently favored. But French is more than just an academic language; French language training for professional use has its place in promoting employability as well as professional and student mobility. The French language is thus perceived by its non-native speakers as a functional and pragmatic tool. The fields and disciplines it is applied to go well beyond the sectors directly linked to languages, and extend from architecture to journalism, the health professions to tourism, etc.

Another major challenge is communication, by strengthening the presence of French in the key parts of international life: the Internet, global media, the economy, and in European and multilateral diplomacy. As far as its presence on the Internet is concerned, the French language comes in at 4th place, after English, Spanish and Arabic.

There are a number of institutes or offices working to promote Francophonie, such as the LabelFrancÉducation and the program for language assistants in France and abroad, the Institut français and its 98 establishments in 95 countries, the network of 832 Alliances françaises present in 131 countries, and the OIF with its 88 member states, which has three regional centers for teaching French (CREF).

Finally, it is essential for the Francophone community that French be a language of creation, benefiting from the wealth of the many centers of creativity present across the continents. This cultural abundance must continue to be expressed through literature, cinema, theatre, dance and the visual arts. It is therefore essential to support, encourage and publicize artists as well as works that promote and reinforce the use of French.

The Francophone community is huge and plays an essential role in the promotion of the French language and cultural diversity. The OIF supports French-speaking countries by fostering cooperation and solidarity between its members. In addition, it is an essential resource for people wishing to learn French, offering training programs, university exchanges and events of all kinds through its various establishments and institutions. In short, the OIF is an example of fruitful international collaboration that brings undeniable benefits to its members and contributes to the dissemination of the French language around the world, whether in the academic, economic, political, communication or cultural fields - let's celebrate the Francophonie on 20th March!

About Altissia:

On the occasion of International Francophonie Day, Altissia is celebrating the French language and its speakers. Altissia actually comes from a French-speaking country, Belgium, and also has offices in several Francophone countries, namely France, Canada and Morocco. We are highly aware of the richness and diversity of the French language, and we try to reflect this in our products, which include a variety of different accents, as well as Canadian French and ‘standard’ French available as study and interface languages. We are committed to developing intercultural exchanges, multilingualism and we aim to not only teach the language itself, but also the cultural and social aspects necessary for effective communication – in French as in our other languages.


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