According to estimates, in 30 years, 8% of the world’s population will be French-speaking. So La Francophonie is more alive and expanding than ever before. However, not all lights are green in Moliere’s language. On the International Day of La Francophonie, we return to the challenges facing the French language.
“to reverse the decline of the French”It is in these few words that Luis Mushikiwabo, Secretary General of the International Organization for La Francophonie (OIF), summed up his fight for La Francophonie at the launch of the book. french language in the world, With an estimated 321 million French speakers worldwide in 2022, French is on the rise and remains the 5th most spoken language in the world (after English, Chinese, Hindi and Spanish). La Francophonie however is not a quiet river and must navigate some of the more disturbing themes.
Regression in learning French in Europe
French is the second foreign language taught in the world. While our language is increasing on all other continents, its education is declining in Europe (-9.8% between 2018 and 2022). However, the Old Continent remains a stronghold for French learning, especially in Italy, Romania, Germany and Spain. However, in non-English speaking countries, when only a foreign language is mandatory, English remains the preferred language. The United Kingdom has also seen a decrease in its FLE numbers after the possibility of dropping a foreign language early on during schooling.
The OIF therefore calls for the development of multilingualism at the European level and educational policies favoring the learning of multiple languages. Professional French learning is also one of the areas of development to strengthen the attractiveness of FLE programs.
French in the Digital Scenario
French is the fourth language on the Internet. It represents 3.50% of the content on the web, far behind English (25%), Chinese (15%) and Spanish (7%). The digital divide in French-speaking African countries, which represent the largest number of speakers, hinders the progress of French in the digital realm. It is losing out to Hindi, Portuguese, Arabic and even Japanese. Only 65.5% speak French, compared to 92.62% Japanese or 97.87% Norwegian. However, the French language exhibits a second degree of cyber-globalization after English, an indicator that summarizes the languages’ strengths for globalization in the digital world.
However, French-speaking cultural material has problems being searched on the web. The staging of the dissemination and distribution of cultural material (by Netflix, YouTube or even Spotify) restricts the visibility of French-language content. Therefore OIF has implemented a digital strategy by 2026 to improve the connectivity and discoverability of the French-speaking region. TV5MONDEplus, a French language digital platform with 5,000 hours of free access programs, fits this purpose perfectly. TV5Monde is also one of the five largest audiovisual networks in the world, with over 80 million viewers per week.
International institutions of monolingualism
Multilingualism is one of the essential conditions for multilateralism. Although French is officially the second language of international organizations, only 4 to 12% of the texts produced are in French (compared to over 30% 20 years ago). Thus English remains the language of choice at the United Nations but also in European institutions. Yet, since Brexit, only 1% of the EU population has English as their mother tongue.
Luis Mushikiwabo is supported by the OIF’s 88 member states and governments and French-speaking ambassadors’ groups. “Monitoring, Vigilance and Action Systems in favor of French Language and Multilingualism in International Organizations”, Action is advocated by the OIF and its supporters to allow a better and closer representation of the number of French speakers but support is also offered for training in French.
The Political and Social Responsibility of La Francophonie
The French language must regain its status as the language of diplomacy, but the international organization of La Francophonie also has to play its part on the world stage. As the Secretary General explains, “We are united around one language, but also links and values”, The OIF can assert its position on the great turmoil of this world through its representation abroad and its member states and governments. The Ministerial Conference of La Francophonie at an extraordinary session in Paris on March 16, 2022, thus adopted a resolution on Ukraine with a sense of steadfastness and unity. He also warned about the growing dangers of disinformation, calling for collective action against the menace. OIF is already committed to training youth in fact-checking.
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