French is a growing language. There are currently 220 million French speakers in the world. By the year 2060, there may be 760 million.
A recent study that claimed French would be the world’s most widely spoken language by 2050, overtaking Spanish, English and Mandarin, may have been a bit over-optimistic. Nevertheless, the number of French speakers around the world is growing sharply, especially in francophone Africa. As L’Express discussed in a recent article, population growth and increasing levels of education in Africa are an important factor in the growth of the language in countries where it is the official language, as well of countries where it plays a mediating role between several local languages, or serves as the language of administration, business and the media.
According to the Observatoire de la langue française, there are likely to be 715 million French speakers in the world in 2050, which is 8% of the expected global population of nine billion. This is then forecast to increase to 760 million francophones by 2060. This may well cause it to creep up the rankings of global languages from its current fourth place, behind English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
The centre of gravity of the French language is also shifting southwards. In 2050, 85% of French speakers will be in Africa. That figure rises to 90% of young people aged 15-29, given the starkly different demographics of the European and African continents.
The future is definitely francophone, even if it’s not necessarily French.