More on the growth of French between 2007 and 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I found the excerpt of this year's report from the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, and taking a quick look over it a few things stand out right away. First the links:

The second link is a 26-page pdf.

It includes the following map of French spoken throughout the world:

More interesting than that though are these numbers showing the change by region over the past three years.

What the two bars represent are the change between 2007 and 2010 in French as a language of utility (blue), and a language of study (red). In other words, blue includes people that do things in French, while red is just those that study French in and of itself. Red would then represent your typical university student who takes it in class as a foreign language but doesn't do all that much else with it.

The numbers are:

A: Total that learn about, and in French
B: Total learning French only as a foreign language

North Africa and Middle East: A + 12.6%, B +12.9%
Sub-saharan Africa, Indian Ocean: A +31.5%, B +18.8%
America + Caribbean: A -1.3%, B -1.2%
Asia, Oceania: A +16%, B +16%
Europe: A -7%, B -17%
Total world: A +13%, B +5.7%

In other words, there are more people studying French now but a larger increase in the number that put it to practical use, but at the same time its study in Europe is plummeting. That's the reason for some of the articles last week claiming French to be dead because of its lack of popularity in Europe, when in most of the rest of the world it is recording some quite phenomenal growth.

So no real surprise here - the conclusion as always is that the future of French as an international language depends on what happens in Africa. At the moment demographics favor French in terms of sheer numbers:

but it is literacy, internet access etc. that will prove decisive on its future heft. Keep in mind that Bengali is one of the most spoken languages in the world but hardly exists online thanks to an internet penetration rate of just 0.6% (!). Well, plus some more in India as well.

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