Why we should stop worrying about the decline of the French language
Former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois recently raised alarms for claiming that French is on the decline in the province because of bilingual greetings in stores, jobs requiring English and French, and less people listing French as their only native language. France’s Emmanuel Macron regularly talks about the need to keep the French language strong as though it is being attacked. So if two large French-speaking nations are fearing the loss of the French language, do Francophones really have something to be concerned about?
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Facts and figures
French is an official language for both France and Canada, which you already knew. Though did you know French is in fact an official language for 29 countries around the world, and spoken unofficially in more than 50? Like English, French is spoken on all the continents. And the numbers of French speakers just keeps on rising. In 2014 the International Organization of la Francophonie estimated there were 274 million French speakers worldwide. In 2019 the Ethnologue puts that figure at closer to 280 million. This is split between approximately 77 million native French speakers, and 203 million choosing the language as their L2 language.
French is also used in an official capacity in many important institutions around the world. French is one of the official languages for The European Space Agency (ESA), the International Red Cross, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), NATO, the OECD, UEFA, all UN agencies, and of course the EU. And that is just for starters! Numerous sporting organizations and agencies for international cooperation use French as one of their official languages. How can it be on the decline?
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French is taught to school children across the globe, and chosen as a second language by millions of adults. French is taught in schools throughout Europe, America, Australia, Africa, and in parts of Asia. The number of pupils taking French as an exam option has risen in the UK after years of decline. And French remains one of the most popular languages for users of Duolingo to learn. Interest in the French language is as strong as ever, perhaps more so thanks to the coming changes in the EU following Brexit. Can a language really be declining if so many want to learn it?
French is amongst the top ten most commonly used languages on the internet, with around 422 million French language users. You can use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and so many other social medias and apps in French. With the growing number of French TV series and films becoming available on Netflix and other streaming services, there is a lot of French media to consume and talk about! Fandom discussions, AMAs with French celebrities, interviews to watch and podcasts to listen to; the possibilities for using the French language are numerous!
There are some francophones who have always feared the encroachment of English to a point where French will become obsolete. Measures to prevent this we have seen particularly in France, where anglicised version of words were banned from official documents, and over the last decades attempts have been made to erase words like hashtag and email from everyday language, to keep everything French. Yes, we know; English really is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for French as well! French is still considered one of the most important languages in the world, for everything from romance and literature to science and technology. French isn’t going anywhere!
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Canada and bilingualism
The French language has always been fiercely protected in Quebec and perhaps rightly so; English is favoured in every other province despite Canada being a bilingual country. Though bilingualism is felt by some to be on the decrease, with many Canadians feeling they can get by just fine with English and no French. The way the government controls the education system in these languages is something that really needs an overhaul if French stands a chance at thriving. The current news for French education is both good and bad. French parents wanting immersion for their children fear that because of the increase in demand for French education, there is a shortage of adequately qualified French-speaking teachers. While Languages Canada reports welcoming more than 18,000 students to French language learning programs in the last year, meaning interest in the language is still strong.
Statistically, French is a strong language used internationally that shows no signs of weakening or decline. Though for Canada in particular the preference for English does seem to pose a threat for French. We are undecided; what do you think? Perhaps you are studying French with us and have a different insight? And if you aren’t, and would like to learn this beautiful language to prove French isn’t on the decline, drop us a quick enquiry!