French is one of the most widely used languages on the planet, with a considerable number of speakers scattered across several continents. Organizations looking to exploit European markets would do well not to overlook the importance of being able to do business in French. In the past, German was often considered the future language of business in Europe after English. However, recent reports have cast doubt on these forecasts, indicating French as the European business language of tomorrow. If you’re keen to solidify your business standing in Europe and beyond, it’s high time you consider mastering proficiency in French.
How Many People Speak French Across the Globe?
French is currently the fifth most spoken language on the planet. Only English, Arabic, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese are more popular in terms of native speakers. Overall, there are some 300 million speakers of French internationally and these French-speaking populations are spread pretty widely. French is an official language in more than 30 countries, with the majority of native speakers based in France itself and Canada’s Quebec province. However, French is regularly used in more than 100 individual territories.
French as a Global Business Language
Because of its sheer number of users and widespread distribution, French is comfortably considered a global language. Together, the French-speaking world is referred to as the ‘La Francophonie’. It’s the only language other than English that bears the characteristics of a truly global language.
Although English maintains dominance as the voice of international business, it undoubtedly faces stiff competition from other languages going forward. While many industry experts look to Mandarin Chinese or European alternatives like German as business languages of the future, French rarely receives the same level of attention. However, according to a recent report by the British Council, the future prospects for the French language are far rosier than once thought.
The British Council looked at a number of metrics to determine the future importance of several world languages in a business context. They considered things like market growth forecasts, export numbers and trading agreements. After bringing all of these metrics together, the report concluded that French was far more important to the future of international business, beating out German by a comfortable margin.
Internet Penetration and Economic Potential
French is one of the most commonly used languages on the internet. Although English and Mandarin Chinese dominate statistics in terms of overall percentage of internet users, French penetrates the top ten. The number of internet users in France is also high, with more than 90 percent of the population able to easily access the web. The internet penetration of other French-speaking territories is considerably lower. However, as high-speed broadband connections become more commonplace in Sub-Saharan Africa and other deprived regions, internet penetration statistics are likely to swing in favor of French-speaking users.
France also boasts one of the healthiest ecommerce markets in the world. As of 2021, France’s ecommerce market ranks sixth overall. Unsurprisingly, powerhouses like Amazon dominate the online retail market, but homegrown brands have continued to maintain a presence due to being able to connect with customers in their native French. With annual ecommerce sales of around 43 billion US dollars, the French online retail market is ripe for the picking. However, any corporate entity looking to explore the economic potential of the French market will need to be able to do business in the native language.