Where is it spoken? French is an official language in 29 countries of Europe, spoken by over 270 million people across five continents, and the fifth most commonly spoken language worldwide. In North and sub-Saharan Africa, more than 100 million people in over 30 countries speak French.
French is the official language of communities such as the Canadian province of Quebec, and Haiti, where it co-exists with a creole variety, as it does in many islands of the Antilles and Indian Ocean, such as Mauritius and Réunion.
Why study French? For centuries, French culture has had a huge influence on the world, including Descartes’ ‘Je pense donc je suis’, enlightenment thinkers Voltaire and Rousseau, the revolutionary ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité, poets such as Hugo, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud, and philosophers such as Sartre, De Beauvoir, or to Camus. France was the birthplace of the déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen of 1789 and the counter-cultural revolution of May ’68, and its culture still fascinates and provokes in equal measure today, thanks to internationally infamous writers such as Michel Houellebecq. To learn French, and to study French culture in its dizzying variety, is to participate in the ever-evolving linguistic and cultural vitality of our modern world.
Credit: David Evans Subject Editor (French) for Oxford University press