French: A Language That Unites People From All Continents
French is my native language and, obviously, the only one into which I translate. I am passionate about it, and consider myself lucky to share a language with so many citizens and nations from around the world.
French is spoken by about 321 million people worldwide, either as a first or second language. These people, present on each continent, form the francophonie, a term that was first used by the French geographer Onésime Reclus in 1880 to refer to men and women who always or partially use the French language in their everyday life.
Many French-speaking countries are African countries. Today, 59% of French speakers are indeed African citizens, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo being the second country with the largest number of French speakers after France. Africa has become the continent where French is used the most and this percentage will increase even more during the next few decades.
⭐ Countries and regions in which French is the only official language
In the countries and regions below, French is the only language that is given legal status. It may coexist with other languages (this is actually often the case, e.g., in France where regional languages like Corsican or Basque are spoken) but only one is considered official and used by the government.
EUROPE ➡️ France, Monaco
AFRICA ➡️ Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Republic of the Congo (or “Congo-Brazzaville”), Senegal, Togo, French Overseas Departments of La Réunion and Mayotte
NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA ➡️ French Overseas Departments of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and French Guiana
OCEANIA ➡️ French Overseas Collectivities of French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna
⭐ Countries in which French is one official language
In the countries below, several languages, among which French, are given legal status (e.g., French and Arabic in Djibouti, or French, English and Bislama in Vanuatu).
EUROPE ➡️ Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland
AFRICA ➡️ Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles
NORTH AMERICA ➡️ Haiti, Canada
OCEANIA ➡️ Vanuatu
👁️🗨️ French is also spoken in other African countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria or Mauritius, as well as in the United States (by Louisiana’s and New England’s francophone communities), but the language has no legal status there.
⭐ Other contexts in which the French language is considered official
French is the second most used language at international organizations, among which the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the European Council. It is also one of the preferred working languages at the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the African Union and Interpol.
What about translation?
In my opinion, there are two main variants when it comes to written French: European/African French and Canadian French*.
You either translate into European/African French or into Canadian French. Of course, all French speakers around the world can mutually understand each other, but terminology, punctuation and other points vary on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Only a professional translator who is 100% familiar with the target locale (and never, ever, a machine) will produce optimum quality and a text that is suitable to the intended audience.
*The differences between Canadian and European/African French have always been of significant interest to me, so I invite you to have a look at an article I wrote on the topic a few years ago, for a company I used to work for.