July 14 is Bastille Day, the French National Day. For the French, it’s simply le 14 julliet. Bastille Day is a huge annual military parade that started in 1880.
For 2017, the Bastille Day celebration will have 1,200 personnel, 63 aircraft, 341 horseback riders and 211 vehicles. For this year’s celebration, 200 U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy troops will also participate.
This is because it’s also the 100th year anniversary of American troops landing in France to help the allies during WWI. You can expect this to be a massive event as usual, ending with a grand fireworks display at France’s most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower.
Bastille Day is a day of union and solidarity. The world is changing due to globalization and while more languages are recognized, communication still tends to focus on the languages of major world players.
One question comes to the fore. On Bastille Day, how important is the French language today?
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The State of French Language on Bastille Day
In the latest statistics available at Ethnologue, French ranks 14th overall among the top languages in the world by number of speakers. It is spoken in 53 countries including the United States.
The total number of first-language (L1) speakers is 76.1 million. Speakers of French as a second language (L2) number 153.5 million, for a total of 229.6 million speakers around the world.
In France, the language is spoken by 62.9 million. The U.S. has 1.3 million French speakers, according to the 2011 census, most of them found in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The most recent (2014) report of the L’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) states that the estimated number of French speakers worldwide is 274 million.
The French language may be experiencing a bit of growth. It was found out that there was a 15 percent increase in French speakers in the countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, the growth of the language in Europe is declining. Current figures show that only 36 percent of French speakers are located in Europe while 54 percent are located in Africa, where Bastille Day is not widely celebrated.
Still, French along with English is spoken in five continents in the world and remains in the top five list of most studied languages. It’s ranked ninth in the most used languages in the web, with 100.6 million users, representing 24.8 percent penetration based on an estimated worldwide population of 405.6 million French speakers in 2017.
It represents just 2.7 percent of the world’s web users.
Before the English language took precedence, the French language occupied the first position. It was almost mandatory before to learn French to open doors to business wherever you go.
It used to be the language of diplomacy and remains one of the official languages of the United Nations. Over 87 international organizations use French as one of their official languages, such as:
- Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA)
- Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
- Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA)
- Cour Pénale Internationale (ICC)
- Organisation internationale du Travail (ILO)
- Mouvement international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge (International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement)
- Comité International Olympique (IOC)
- Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord (NATO)
- Union Européenne de Football Association (UEFA)
- Organisation mondiale du tourisme (UNWTO)
- Organisation Mondiale du Commerce (WTO)
- Union postale universelle (UPU) (French is the official language, English is only a working language)
Groups trying to preserve and spread the use of the French language such as the L’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie are working hard to reach their 2050 target – 650 million French speakers worldwide. They also actively promote French celebrations, such as Bastille Day, throughout the world.
The organization actually estimates that the growth will reach 700 million, 80 percent of which will be from Africa. If this happens, the worldwide population of French speakers will represent 8 percent of the world’s total population.
The importance of the French language cannot be denied. It is one of the languages used in the European Union, together with English, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian.
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Brexit Will Strengthen French
With Brexit almost certain, it is expected that French will be a more dominant language in the EU, along with German. In fact, French was the main language of business in the European Union before England joined the EU in 1973. When Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President had a conference in May, he delivered his address in French.
On Bastille Day, 2017, there is hope that the French language will spread more outside of France. A large portion of French speakers around the world is located in Africa. Rich in resources and rapidly growing, African countries are emerging markets, with the fastest-growing economies located in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Mozambique, Tanzania and Rwanda.
In former French occupied territories such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Morocco and Algeria where there is a low level of English language proficiency, French remains as their chosen language.
French is spoken in five continents – Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. It is the official language or one of the official languages in several countries, including Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Canada, Haiti, Madagascar, Seychelles, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique and several African countries.
Just like English, French is taught as a foreign language and included in the curriculum of many education systems around the world. It is one of the languages most studied by foreign language learners.
The French language may not have the same level of prestige it enjoyed in the 17th century this Bastille Day, but it’s not declining. It is still one of the major languages in business, ranking 3rd after English and Mandarin.
With most of the emerging markets coming from Africa and most of the fastest growing economies in Africa speaking French, it can be said that French will even experience a resurgence.
Right now it is ranked 9th most used Internet language. Things can change quickly as more parts of Africa get online. It is a language most English speakers find easy to learn as 29 percent of the English vocabulary today includes loan words from French.
It is still a very important international business language, as the French economy ranks 3rd in Europe and 6th in the world. In the list of Fortune Global 500 for 2016, France ranks 4th after Japan, with 29 companies included in the list.
So whether you are a student, someone who’s looking for a job in a multinational corporation, a businessperson, an investor or simply a lover of languages who is looking for a language to learn, make it French.