Excerpt taken from the book The Story of French
As an international language, French is said to be waning. English not so long ago surpassed French as the world’s lingua franca and is now the undisputed international language of business, diplomacy and academic exchange. In numbers of speakers, French ranks only ninth in the world, far behind Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and English, and neck-and-neck with Portuguese. It has relatively little economic clout; the combined GDP of the countries where French is spoken places it far behind English, well behind both Japanese and German, and just ahead of Spanish. French speakers seem to be so insecure that they pass laws banning other languages and spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars making sure their language gets used in literature, music and film.
From other perspectives, however, French appears to be flourishing. Among international languages, French is in a class of its own. Of the six thousand languages now spoken on Earth, French is one of only fifteen spoken by more than a hundred million people, and one of a dozen used as official languages in more than one country. Among these, only four- English, French, Spanish and Arabic—have official status in more than twenty countries. French, with thirty-three countries, ranks second to English, with forty-five. Two G8 countries (France and Canada) are French-speaking, as are four member countries of the European Union (France, Belgium, Luxembourg and soon-to-be member Romania). French is the number-two second-language choice of students across the planet, attracting learners as far away as Lesotho and Azerbaijan, with two million teachers and a hundred million students worldwide. It is the only language besides English that is taught in every country of the world. Finally, there have never been as many French speakers in the world as there are today: The number has tripled since the Second World War.
It doesn’t seem like an exaggeration to claim that French is another global language, and, as we have seen, perhaps the other global language, in an increasingly English-dominated world.