Move Over English: Why French is the Language of the Future

Move Over English: The French Language Revolution is Here!

How, from my perspective, French will be the language of the future

June 19, 2014

The History of the French Language

For centuries, French was the official language of culture and erudition. From the age of Louis XIV (17th century) to the beginning of the twentieth century, French was viewed as the essential language of communication between European and European-influenced powers. The reasons for this linguistic hegemony were multifold: the constant political power of France during this period, France’s geographical position at the heart of Europe and its strong historical relations with all of the major Western nations. Indeed, from the 17th to the 19th centuries, France was the leading power in Europe. 

Along with the influence of the Enlightenment (the philosophical trend), French was the lingua franca of all of educated Europe, especially with regards to the arts, literature and diplomacy. Monarchs like Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia not only could speak—but also write in—French very well. Their courts often welcomed French-speaking celebrities such as Voltaire. The Russian, German and Scandinavian courts spoke French as their main or official language, regarding their national languages as the languages of the peasants. And during the 17th and 18th centuries, French established itself permanently in the Americas. 

It is easy to understand why French became the language of diplomacy from the 17th to the mid-20th century. A simple example is that the Treaty of Versailles (1918) was written both in English and French. However, French lost most of its international significance after World War II, when the United States became a superpower, and the English language took over. Despite its decline, many people often forget that French is the only language—along with English—to be spoken on all seven continents and remains an official language for the Olympic Games, the United Nations and many other organizations.

French in Today’s Modern Society

Many would argue that French is a beautiful language, but is it useful these days? As astonishing as it might seem, the answer in my opinion, is OUI, OUI, OUI! Recent studies have shown that indeed, the lingua franca might be the one to count on for the future. And here is why:

French is not only spoken in France but in many parts of the world, including the fast-growing parts of Africa. It is growing quickly, especially in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. According to the latest estimation, by 2050, French will be spoken by 750 million people. The investment bank Natixis went so far as to suggest that by that time, French could become the most-spoken language in the world. Some may argue the methodology used to come to this conclusion is not the best; it relies on counting all the inhabitants of all countries who list French as their official language as all French speakers, which might not necessarily be the case. But, the fact remains that French will be present on all continents (as it is now) and will become particularly predominant in a continent that should be a fast-growing economic powerhouse: Africa.

So, step aside English and Mandarin: Vive le French! 

Photo courtesy of Francois Schnell on Flickr

Barbara Sicot
A native French speaker, Barbara Sicot has been a member of the French faculty at Middlebury College's Language Schools for 16 years and now brings her expertise in world language curriculum development to Middlebury Interactive. She is an avid cook (madeleines and flamiche are her specialties!), passionate about teaching and, once-upon-a-time, was admitted to the Paris Ballet opera.
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