The World Almanac says that there are only 70 million French-speaking people in the world. That’s not very significant, why should I bother learning it?
Not so fast! If you look closely, the World Almanac is giving the estimated number of people for whom French is their mother tongue (even at that it is questionable, but I will get to that later). Beside that number is the number of countries in which French is spoken by a significant number of people. That number is 60, making French the second most widely spoken language in the world, after English.
More realistic estimates of the number of people who speak French vary somewhat, Wikipedia says 340 million. At present there are about equal numbers of French-speaking people in Europe and in Africa, but that is rapidly changing. As education becomes more and more accessible to the people of the francophone countries of Africa, French is rapidly replacing tribal languages. Thus estimates which assume that all Africans have tribal languages as their mother tongue are becoming less and less realistic. It is estimated that by 2050 there could be 500 million, or more, French-speaking people in Africa alone.
The numbers of people who know French in some other countries may surprise you: more than 10 million in both Germany and the UK, almost 3 million in Egypt, more than 2 million in the USA, around half a million in each of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand, and so on.
There are more than 10 million French-speaking people in Canada, it is one of our official languages. Many parents, even here in Saskatchewan, are sending their children to French immersion schools because they believe that knowing both French and English will be a tremendous asset for their children.
There are many rural communities scattered across Saskatchewan that were settled by French-speaking people from Québec, France and Belgium. (Even from the USA; my grandparents were born in upstate New York and my grandmother spoke French. Unfortunately, that knowledge of French skipped a generation — my father only learned a few words from his mother.) French is dying out in some of those communities, but not all.
Many French-speaking people have migrated to the cities where their numbers have been augmented by French-speaking immigrants. There is a francophone school division that operates schools in a few small towns and most of our cities. Young families are maintaining the language. When I overhear people speaking French in Saskatoon they are almost always from the younger generation. Many immigrants who have neither English nor French as their mother tongue want their children to be fluent in both languages.
With a burgeoning francophone population in the world, the opportunities for mission outreach are also increasing. We here in Canada are ideally placed to learn French to meet that need. The internet gives us access to Christian reading material in French plus opportunities to learn about the culture of other countries. I am a member of the French proofreading committee of our church, so I will suggest a website that contains some of the tracts that we have worked on: http://gospeltract.ca/fr/index.php
6 thoughts on “Why learn French?”
Learning any language gives you a better command of your own in seminary I learned Greek and Hebrew, both dead languages for the most part, yet later an I lived in Germany I was surprised to see many words I could parse from their roots!
“Learning any language gives you a better command of your own.” I* can certainly vouch for that. It is fascinating, and enlightening, to discover how interrelated languages are, even from different language families.
I like the website DuoLingo, they teach about a dozen laguages to English speakers for free, including French.
I checked it out, looks interesting. I’ve made half a dozen half-hearted attempts to learn Italian over the past thirty years, maybe I should try again.
My sister does Duolingo for Spanish and has done a little with German. Arnaud, the youngest in our family has done a bit of Italian and is doing German. Astrid says it is more challenging and you learn more if you do as if you were learning your own language from the one that you want to learn. Like for Spanish, she will receive all instructions in Spanish and need to translate them into French.
Today, for the first time in modern history, the Church’s mission efforts have turned more to French-speaking countries than Spanish-speaking countries, though efforts to English-speaking countries still seem disproportionate. It is about time that the mission effort adjusts itself to the reality. This also means sending more missionaries in Asian countries and Muslim countries, as well a some more efforts to re-enter Europe, even though doors may not seem wide open in some of those places.