French Speaking Countries In Africa

Kristina Temelkova

I am born and raised in Bulgaria, but I'm currently living in Vienna, Austria. Besides content writing, I work as a translator, video editor, and caption writer. At present, I’m also finishing my master’s degree in applied linguistics at the University of Vienna. I speak four languages: Bulgarian, English, German, and Russian.

May 31, 2024 | Language

Despite its European origins, French in Africa is truly thriving! What’s more, it can be seen as a dynamic, ever-changing entity that has evolved uniquely across the continent.

The French language has served as a bridge between societies, cultures, and continents for centuries. Today, it connects over 200 million people across 29 countries.

It is known as a language of history, culture, and science. In modern-day Africa, it is much more!

French is the language of administration, education, and governance in many African countries.

Indeed, even after decolonization, many African countries retained French as an official language due to its established role as an international language.

What’s more, it has been a powerful tool for fostering bilingualism and multilingualism alongside indigenous languages.

Today, French remains an important language on the African continent, shaping communities, societies, identities, and communication across and beyond the continent.

In the following blog, we’ll dive into the linguistic landscape of the African continent and will explore in depth the number of French speaking countries in Africa and the world!

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Where is French Spoken?

French is spoken in various parts of the world, primarily in countries where it is either the official language or has significant historical and cultural ties.

Let’s have a look at some of the key regions and the approximate number of French speakers in each of them:

French speakers in Europe

French is primarily spoken in Western Europe; in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxemburg, and Monaco, French is the official language.

In France, there are about 65 million French speakers.

In Belgium, French is spoken mainly in the southern region of Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region by about 4 million people.

One of the four official languages, French is spoken primarily in the western part of Switzerland by 1.5 million people.

Around 300,000 people in Luxembourg speak French, though the other two official languages, German and Luxembourgish, are more common.

Monaco, with a population of less than 40,000 people, has nearly all of its residents speaking French.

French Speaking Countries In Africa

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Also read: The Top 10 Most Spoken Languages In Europe 2024

French speakers in North America

In North America, French is primarily spoken in Canada as well as in the Caribbean. 

It is one of the two official languages of Canada. It is predominantly spoken in the province of Quebec and parts of Ontario and New Brunswick. There are approximately 7 million native French speakers living in Canada.

In the Caribbean, French is the official language of Haiti with around 10 million speakers.

In Guadeloupe and Martinique, which are French overseas departments, French is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population.

The French part of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are considered French overseas collectivities where French is the official language and thus, widely spoken.

French speakers in South America

In South America is located French Guiana which is an overseas department of France. Thus, it is the official language of the government, education, and media. The majority of the population, which is around 300,000 people, speaks French fluently.

French Speaking Countries In Africa

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French speakers in Oceania

In Oceania, French is spoken in several Pacific Islands, with varying degrees of prevalence.

In Vanuatu, French is one of the official languages, alongside English and Bislama. What’s more, approximately 30-40% of the local population speaks French, predominantly in urban areas and the educated population.

New Caledonia is a French territory and as such, French is the official language. The majority of the population, or around 270,000 people, speaks French fluently.

French Polynesia is another overseas collectivity of France, where French is the official language. Most of the population, around 280,000 people, speaks French, though Tahitian and other Polynesian languages are also widely spoken.

French speakers in Africa

In Africa, there are approximately 170 million French speakers. This makes Africa the continent with the highest number of French speakers.

Moreover, the number continues to grow, the main reasons being the ongoing demographic trends as well as the increasing use of French in education, administration, and media across many African countries.

Overall, French is estimated to have over 300 million speakers worldwide, making it one of the most widely spoken languages globally.

French Speaking Countries In Africa

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According to Forbes, French is among the fastest-growing languages in the world. They predict that by 2050, French will be spoken by 750 million people.

Currently, it is the 5th most widely spoken language in the world.

What are the French speaking countries in Africa?

French Speaking Countries In Africa

Due to the colonial history of Africa, French is widely spoken across the African continent.

Here is an overview of the French speaking countries in Africa:

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): French is one of the official languages of the DRC and is spoken by approximately 33 million speakers.

Algeria: In Algeria, French is predominantly spoken in urban areas and among the educated population. It is one of the country’s official languages. There are about 16 million French speakers in the country.

Cameroon: Alongside English, French is one of the official languages of Cameroon. It is widely spoken, particularly in the central and southern regions, where most of the country’s 12 million French speakers reside.

Ivory Coast: French is the official language of the Ivory Coast and is spoken by approximately 12 million people.

Senegal: French is the official language of Senegal. Around 6 million people speak French in Senegal.

Morocco: While Arabic is the official language of Morocco, French is widely spoken, especially in business, educational, and governmental settings. There are approximately 6 million French speakers in Morocco.

Mali: In Mali, French is spoken by about 5 million people.

Burkina Faso: French is spoken throughout the country by around 4 million people.

Niger: French is one of the official languages of Niger and is widely used in government and education. There are around 3 million French speakers in Niger.

Tunisia: While Arabic is the official language of Tunisia, French is widely used in business and education. Around 3 million people speak French in Tunisia.

Benin: French is the official language of Benin and is widely spoken throughout the country by approximately 2 million people.

Burundi: French is one of the official languages of Burundi and is used in government and education. Burundi is home to around 1 million French speakers.

This list is by no means complete. On the African continent, French is used in various capacities such as education, business, government, and media in over 30 countries. Not all of them recognize it as an official language, though.

Also read: [TOP 5] English Speaking Countries in Africa

Countries in Africa with French as official language

French is recognized as an official language in 21 African countries.

Many African countries have more than one official language. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) French is one of the official languages, alongside the four national languages – Kituba (Kikongo), Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba. In Algeria, in Djibouti, Chad, Mauritania, and Tunisia, French is one of the two official languages alongside Arabic

French Speaking Countries In Africa

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Other African countries with other official languages besides French include Cameroon (French and English), Burundi (French and Kirundi), Comoros (French, Comorian, and Arabic), Central African Republic (CAR) (French and Sango), Equatorial Guinea (French, Spanish, and Portuguese), Madagascar (French and Malagasy), Rwanda (French, Kinyarwanda, and English), Seychelles (French, English, and Creole), Vanuatu (Bislama, English, and French), and Mauritius (French, English, and Mauritian Creole).

In countries, such as Benin, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Sénégal, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Togo, and Gabon, French is the only official language.

It is important to note that these countries vary widely in terms of the extent of French usage and fluency among the population. Nevertheless, French holds some level of official status in government, education, and administration.

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French vs English in Africa

French and English are two of the most widely spoken languages in Africa.

Their presence and prominence, however, vary across African countries based on numerous factors such as colonial history, regional dynamics, and official language policies.

To gain a better understanding of English and French speakers in Africa, let’s compare them!

Geographic Distribution

French is predominantly spoken in West and Central Africa, while English is more dominant in East, Southern, and parts of West Africa.

French Speaking Countries In Africa

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Number of Speakers

French is estimated to be spoken by 167 million people in Africa, which is 51% of the French-speaking population of the world spread across 34 countries and territories.

As for English, in Africa, there are around 237 million English speakers in total (including native and non-native speakers).

Status as an official language

French is an official language in 21 African countries.

English on the other hand,  is an official language in 24 African countries.

Education

Both languages are used as primary means of instruction at educational institutions across Africa.

The language of business in Africa

Both English and French serve as major languages of business in Africa. However, their prominence can vary significantly by region and country.

English is widely used in business settings in countries that have closer historical and economic ties with the UK. Such countries include Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana.

French is predominant in countries like Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These nations are closely working with Francophone economic organizations.

Additionally, in some countries, both languages are used in business settings.

Overall, depending on the specific region and its economic ties, the language of business in Africa can be either English or French.

Also read: Business In South Africa: Economy, Languages & Cultural Etiquette

Economic ties

French speaking countries in Africa, often have economic ties with France and other Francophone nations. Thus, in these countries, French is often the language of business.

Similarly, English-speaking African countries often have economic ties with the United Kingdom and other English-speaking nations. One such organization is the Commonwealth of Nations.

French Speaking Countries In Africa

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Also read: Italian vs French: How Different and Similar are these Languages?

Overall, both French and English play crucial roles in Africa, reflecting the continent’s linguistic diversity and historical legacies. Each language has its own sphere of influence, but bilingualism or multilingualism is common in many African countries where both languages are spoken.

Conclusion

Surprisingly, Africa turns out to be the continent with the most French speakers in the world!

And while Africa is home to myriad indigenous languages, French has become a key part of the linguistic landscape of the continent.

What’s more, it has become a powerful tool in overcoming linguistic barriers and bringing the African people closer together!

Looking for French translation services ?

Milestone helps you seamlessly translate content & localize your website, products, and services for more reach, better conversions, and greater sales.

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