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The French language

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Find out more about the past, present, and future of the French language, as well as its geography, history, and grammar, and the reasons why and how you should study it.


The Observatoire de la langue française estimates that 97% of individuals in France, a nation with a population that is mostly monolingual, speak French as their first language. In addition to being an official language in Canada and 28 other nations throughout the globe, including Vanuatu, French is spoken in Togo. However, it coexists alongside several different local languages, dialects, and créoles, not just in France but also across the globe.


Despite this, its usage and popularity are only expanding, and there are already over 300 million people throughout the world who speak French either as their mother tongue or as a second language. There has never been a better moment to increase your knowledge of the French language, whether you're interested in its history or its grammar.


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Want to brush up on your French before making the move to France? Babbel is a mobile application that enables you to study a language at your speed and around your hectic schedule. Because the courses were developed by native speakers of the target language, you'll have access to expert-level instruction without having to leave the convenience of your phone. Download Babbel right now to get a head start on learning French.


What languages are often used among the French people?


There are hundreds of other languages and dialects spoken alongside French in the French Republic, although French is the primary and only language recognized by the government. These include, just to mention a few, the following:


● language is spoken in the Basque Country to the south

● Breton to the west of the island

● Varieties of German spoken along the eastern border

● Corsican and Nicard, which are located farther south


Breton schools are making a strong resurgence, and the Basque language has a significant representation in the local media. On the other hand, the vast majority of other languages and dialects are exclusively spoken in homes and communities by native speakers who are also proficient in French.


Occitan (526,000 speakers), Alsacien (548,000 speakers), and Breton are the three regional languages spoken by the next largest number of people after French (304 000). In addition to this, immigration has brought with it a significant increase in the variety of languages spoken. Arabic is the second most spoken language in France, after Creole, followed by Berbère, Armenian, and Romani languages. There are around 4 million people who are fluent in Arabic. Immigrant families have often been the ones to preserve these minority languages by passing them down through many generations. As a consequence of this, they currently differ from the official languages or variations of the languages spoken in the nations from where they originated to varying degrees.


The regions in the globe that mostly speak French.


The Observatoire de la langue française estimates that around 300 million individuals in different parts of the globe can communicate in French. There are about 78 million individuals in the world whose first language is French; the remaining people speak French as a second or third language.

French is taught in schools all across the globe and has the unusual position of being the second most prevalent foreign language (pdf) after English.


It should come as no surprise that French is not just spoken in France, but also by francophone groups in almost every region of the world. Many nations and areas across the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, Haiti, North America, French Guiana, and other French overseas territories, have populations who speak French as either their primary or second language.


It is important to keep in mind that Africa and the Middle East are home to sixty percent of the world's francophones, while France is home to just twenty-eight percent. As a result of all of these factors, French is now the sixth most spoken language in the world, behind Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish, and Arabic in that order.


Mauritius (with 73%), Gabon (66%), Seychelles (53%), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (51%) are some of the nations that have the highest number of French speakers outside of France. The Observatoire de la Francophonie reports that French is the third language used in commerce all around the globe and the second language used in Europe.


The beginnings and development of French throughout history


The Indo-European language family includes French as a member of the Italic branch of the tree. It is a Romance language, descending from Vulgar Latin like other Romance languages like Italian, Spanish, Romanian, and Portuguese. Greek, Ligurian, and Gaulish were the three languages that were spoken by the people who lived in the land that is now France during the 5th century BC. Latin, the language spoken by the Romans during their invasion of France in the year 50 B.C., is also derived from an Indo-European language that was spoken about 8,000 years ago.


Statue of Vercingétorix the Gaul in Clermont Ferrand


About 500 years after that, a Germanic ethnic group known as the Franks rose to prominence and established their empire. Although most people in the population continued to speak Vulgar Latin and Frankish after this event, Latin remained the language of state and church administration for the next centuries. These languages gradually mixed and developed into a new Romance language throughout time.


By the 10th century, there were already hundreds of distinct varieties of this Romance language. The type of French that is spoken in Paris, also known as Francian or French, gradually evolved into the most prestigious and prevalent form of the language. Last but not least, in the year 1539, King Francois I decided that the laws of the state would be written in French, so establishing this variation of French as the official language of the State. Latin was replaced by French as the language of instruction in schools after the Revolution.


French dialects


Even though there are a great number of different languages and dialects that are spoken in France and other francophone countries, not all of them are variations of the French language. A language like Basque is linguistically unrelated to French, yet many of the regional dialects spoken in eastern France are far closer to German than French.


There are two primary classifications of Romance dialects spoken in the metropolitan areas of France. To begin, there are the langues d'oel, which are spoken in the region of France known as the Hauts-de-France and consist of the following languages: Frainc-Comtou, Walloon, Champenois, Picard, Norman, Gallo, Poitevin-saintongeais, Lorrain, and Burgundian. Second, the Occitan languages, often known as the langues d'oc, are spoken in the southern region of the nation. These languages include Auvergnat, Lemosin (Limousin), Provencal, Nicard, Lengadocian, and Gascon. The French that is spoken in Belgium and Switzerland deviates from standard French only to a considerably less degree than other varieties of French, but the differences in vocabulary and pronunciation are still observable.


Main dialects and where they are spoken across France


Outside of Europe, the French colonisation of other parts of the globe resulted in the creation of a large number of creoles as well as regional variants. The French language has developed from French Guiana to Martinique, Haiti to New Caledonia, as a result of the influence of the syntax, pronunciation, and phrases of the local languages. For example, the French that is spoken in Quebec features lexical borrowings from English, remains of ancient French idioms that are no longer used in Europe, and a distinct accent that other French speakers may find extremely challenging to comprehend.


French pronunciation and phonology


The Latin alphabet is used in the French language; however, unlike in English, some letters of the French alphabet may be accented (é, è, ê, ô, c, ù, and û). In point of fact, as a native English speaker, you are going to notice that you are picking up 10 new sounds. The most difficult aspects of the English language for non-native speakers to master are without a doubt the guttural "r" and the four nasal vowels, whose spellings include "un," "en," "an," "ain," "em," "ein," and "on." There are just two other languages spoken in Europe that make use of nasal vowels, and those languages are Portuguese and Breton.


If you haven't grown up speaking French with your family, you may find it challenging to differentiate between the nasal vowels of French, although doing so might often result in a change in the intended meaning. For instance, the letters in the words "main" (hand), "ment" (lying), and "mon" (mine) are spelled quite differently from one another, yet they all have very similar pronunciations. Each word begins with the sound "m" and is followed by a distinct nasal vowel.


In a similar vein, the sound 'ou' in French is quite similar to a 'u' sound in Italian or Spanish ("oo"), but the 'u' in French is sharper and is spoken closer to the front of the mouth. Many words have various meanings depending on which 'u' sound you use, such as tu (you) and tout (everything), or vu (seen) and vous (plural you) - notice that the last consonants are silent. It is difficult for speakers of other languages to get this variation correct.


The following are a few helpful hints to keep in mind while reading French; nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that there is a significant difference between spoken and written French, with many consonants remaining silent.


The following are a few helpful hints to keep in mind while reading French; nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that there is a significant difference between spoken and written French, with many consonants remaining silent.


● OU = “oo”

● OI = “wah”

● CH = “sh” (as in short)

● AU/EAU = “o”

● Ç = “s”


Visit the Lingvist website for further suggestions on how to properly pronounce French words and phrases.


French grammar


The following is an overview of a few of the fundamental building blocks that make up the grammar of the French language.


Nouns


Every noun in French may be classified as either feminine or masculine, depending on the context. For example, the table is called la table (female), yet the vehicle is called le camion (the truck – masculine). A final's' that is not spoken is added to plurals.


Articles


Articles are always used in French, and they are always correct in terms of gender and number agreement with the nouns they accompany.


Plural


Definite (“the”)

LE / L’LA / L’LES

Indefinite (“a”)

UNUNEDES

Partitive (“some”)DUDE LADES


Adjectives


When describing a noun in French, the adjective always has to agree with the noun's gender (+ 'e' for feminine nouns) and number (+'s' for plurals). E.g. un large escalier / une grande vitre / des grandes dents (a big staircase, a big window, big teeth).


Verbs


There are three categories of verbs in the French language, and they are differentiated (usually; of course, there are exceptions!) according to the infinite form of their last syllable.


● The first category includes ER verbs (e.g. chasser, payer, acheter)

● The second category includes RE verbs (e.g. prendre, vendre, comprendre)

● The third category includes IR verbs (e.g. finir, punir, fuir)


The forms of the verbs in the past, present, and future, as well as the conditional and subjunctive moods, will be conjugated differently according to the group to which they belong. There are always going to be exceptions to any rule, and several relatively common verbs like "to be," "to have," and "to go" each has their unique conjugations. As of right now, they may be summarised as follows:


ÊtreAvoirAller

Je suis

Tu es

Il/elle est

Nous sommes

Vous êtes

Ils/elles sont

J’ai

Tu as

Il/elle a

Nous avons

Vous avez

Ils/elles ont

Je vais

Tu vas

Il/elle v

Nous allons

Vous allez

Ils/elles vont


In the meanwhile, you may form the future tense by using the word aller in connection with an infinitive, such as "je vais faire," "thou vais faire," "il/elle va faire," and so on. This is a direct translation of the phrase "I/you/he/she is going to do."


You may want to look at the Collins Easy Learning French Grammar if you're interested in delving further into the complexities of French grammar.


Interesting facts about the French language


Did you know…?


● Approximately one third of current English terms have their roots in French. As a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066, the use of French flourished in the English court, and the language came to be linked with the upper classes of society. As a consequence of this, its influence can still be found in modern English all over the world, even in words that you would never guess come from the French language, such as "sport," "modern," "origin," and even "denim" (the fabric gets its name from the town of Nimes, which is pronounced "de Nimes").

● Académie Francaise was established in 1635 to control the use of the French language, and it has a significant amount of power even now. They reign over every modernisation and neologism in French, and its 40 members are known as les immortels (which translates to "the immortals").


The French Academy of Sciences and Letters convenes in the Institut de France in Paris.


● The letter "w" is not used in French, except for a few loanwords, such as "waggon," "le wi-fi," "le web," and "les WC."

● In French, the letter "E" is used the most often. Despite this, the author Georges Perec decided to take on the insurmountable task of writing a whole book without using this letter even once. This was an impossible endeavor. It was originally written in French under the title "La Disparition," and its English name is "A Void."

● Some French terminology has been ingrained in other languages and cultures all around the globe, particularly in certain cultural sectors such as ballet and cookery. For instance, the phrases rond de jambe, plié, and enjambé are used in ballet, and cuisine (another french word for cooking), there are terms such as blanching, julienne, bain-marie, bouquet garni, jus, and papillote, just to mention a few.

● After Spanish, French is the second most often studied second language in the United States. It is the country's fourth most common native language.


Learning the French language in France


Learning French might be beneficial to you for a wide host of other reasons if you want to make a permanent move to France. These include, but are not limited to, professional opportunities, opportunities to socialize with locals, opportunities to integrate into the culture and society of the area, legal requirements (if you want to pursue residence or nationality), and opportunities for personal growth.


There are several approaches to acquiring linguistic proficiency. You may, for instance, decide to pursue instruction in a conventional classroom setting by enrolling in French classes at your neighborhood Institut francais or one of the many other language schools available. In this scenario, the instruction might take place in small groups, in a traditional classroom setting, or even online. Additionally, there could be integrated field trips and activities to help students apply what they have learned. Getting a private tutor is a yet another choice you have. You may also participate in discussion nights at no cost, view online courses, or download an app designed just for language study.


In essence, there is a method of education that can be tailored to the interests and financial constraints of every individual. If you are already located in France, the most effective strategy for enhancing your French language skills is to go out there and put it into practice. You may get a few ideas by reading the local newspaper, listening to French-language radio, and talking to the proprietor of a small business or the person who sweeps the streets in your neighborhood. You may even set up play dates for your children or initiate conversations with other parents who frequent the park. Simply maintain an open attitude, let the other person know that you are interested in practicing the language, and insist on speaking French even if they wish to switch to English.


Useful resources


● Collins Easy Learning French Grammar – a guide to the French verbs and syntax that is written in English and is simple and easy to grasp, and it includes thousands of examples

● Institut francais – a website that lists all of the locations and activities that are dedicated to the promotion of French culture all around the globe

● Lingvist – an in-depth guide on pronouncing French words and phrases

● Ministère de la Culture - The French Ministry of Culture has a website devoted to the French language and other languages spoken in France called Langue francaise et langues de France.

● Observatoire de la langue française – a worldwide organization of French speakers that monitors the state of the French language on a global scale and prepares reports on its findings.


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