French is a language spoken by more than 274 million of the world’s population. French has been recognized as an official language in 29 countries of the world and is spoken as the first language in many countries and regions including France, the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick in Canada, western Switzerland, northwestern Italy, the states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in the United States. Many international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the World Trade Organization use French for their official purposes.
With the French colonialism which started in the 16th century, the language French began to spread in the new territories in the American, Asian and African continents. French which was introduced to Africa as a result of the French colonialism has occupied a prominent place in many countries and territories in the continent today. Also, Africa consists of more than 70% of the world’s total French-speaking population.
List of French Speaking Countries in Africa
1. The Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo tops the list of French-speaking countries in Africa. French is not only the official language of DR Congo, but also considered the lingua franca which connects people belonging to multiple ethnic groups speaking different languages in the country. Not only that, 17% of the entire French-speaking population in the world also resides in this country. 33 million people living in DR Congo possess the ability to read and write in French.
French replaced the national languages in the post-independent Congo when it gained the collective acceptance as the only medium of education at all levels. French is the means for Congolese to access universal knowledge.
French first became the official language in Madagascar during the colonial period, when the country became a French colony. It still bears the importance as an official language in Madagascar. Today, around 24 million people in Madagascar speak French.
Despite its independence from France, French remains the language of government, business and most importantly education in Madagascar, making Madagascar one of the French-speaking countries in Africa. French is widely used for educational purposes in the country and spoken extensively among educated people. French has been rendered a special place in Madagascar, mainly because of its international recognition and the fact that most of the national leaders and people holding high positions are educated in French.
More than 23 million people in Cameroon speak French. Although French shares the official language status with English, more than 80% of the people living in the country understand French. Bilingual proficiency in both English and French is promoted in the country, and as a result, administrative and legislative documents are produced in both languages. While the two official languages of colonial heritage dominate public life in the areas of education, administration, politics, mass media and literature, the indigenous languages have been relegated to a marginalized position.
4. Ivory Coast
Around 22 million people in Ivory Coast speak French. Like in Congo, Madagascar and Cameroon, French is the official language in Ivory Coast. It serves as a linking language in the country facilitating communication across multiple ethnic communities. French is the sole language of government, education and administration in the country, making Ivory Coast a French-speaking country in Africa.
The Republic of the Niger is the largest country in West Africa. Like in many other Francophone countries in the Africa, French is the official language in Niger. French is used as a second language among the western educated population in the country. 20% of Nigerians are literate in French. It is used for official purposes by the government, legal purposes by the court system and commercial purposes by the business community in the country.
6. Burkina Faso
Another African country that speak French is Burkina Faso, whose official language is French. The French language was introduced to Burkina Faso when it was colonized by the French in 1919. Even though about 70 languages are spoken in the country, French is the primary language of administration, education, public service, press and law. Since the ability to speak and write in French assures the improvement of the living condition of people in Burkina Faso, there is a growing demand among people to learn French.
Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa with a total population of 19.1 million. It is a multilingual country where people speak over 80 languages. French is the official language and Bambara is the most widely used language in the country. Despite its official status, the number of people who are proficient in French is low. Most of the people who know French use it as a second language. The usage of French is considerably higher in urban areas than in the rural regions in Mali. Nevertheless, French has been rendered a prominent position in the country by making it the language of administration and formal education.
French is the official language in Senegal. Even though French has been identified as the language of administration in Senegal, only 15-20% of the male population and 1-2% of the female population in the country speak and understand French. Additionally, 21% of the Senegalese population has a working knowledge of French. Because of the political and economic power held by French in Senegal, proficiency in it is considered as a basic requirement for upward social mobility.
The French language was introduced to most countries in Africa as a result of the colonial enterprise carried out by France from the 16th century onward. Today, Africa is home to the majority of the world’s French-speaking community. When compared with the other foreign languages, French is the fastest growing language on the continent. Being the official language of administration, education, media and legal processes in many former French colonies in Africa, French acts as an essential requirement to gain access to educational and professional opportunities. Thus, there is a growing demand among people in Africa to learn French.
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