French language facts: frequent questions and answers

French language facts: frequent questions and answers

In a previous article, Fun and Strange Facts about French language, we discussed some little-known facts about the language, but very useful for any French language and culture lover.

Today we bring you some more common facts that are usually asked by most people. Still, they can be very interesting. Read on, you may discover something new today about the French language.


What is the origin of the French Language?

French is a Romance language, that is, from Latin, the language spoken by the ancient Romans. It belongs to the “Gallo-Romance” branch of the Romance languages, which include others like Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian.

French originated in the northern part of Gaul (modern-day France and Belgium) where the Romans had established their rule. The local Celtic languages, known as Gaulish, gradually gave way to Vulgar Latin, the everyday spoken form of Latin. However, Gaulish left some traces in the French vocabulary, such as the words Alouette (lark), bouleau (birch), and chêne (oak).

The first written evidence of French dates back to the 9th century, when two oaths sworn by Charlemagne’s grandsons were recorded in both Latin and Old French. Old French was influenced by the Germanic languages of the Franks and the Normans, who invaded and ruled parts of France. For example, the words blanc (white), brun (brown), and guerre (war) are of Germanic origin.

origin of the French Language

Old French gradually developed into Middle French, which was spoken from the 14th to the 16th century. This was when the standard Parisian dialect appeared. It became more popular for having been promoted by the royal court and by writers. Middle French also borrowed many words from Latin, Greek, Italian, and other languages. For instance, the words histoire (history), philosophie (philosophy), and musique (music) are of Greek origin.

Modern French emerged in the 17th century when the Académie Française was founded to regulate and preserve the French language. Modern French is characterized by a more stable grammar and orthography, as well as a richer and more diverse vocabulary. More and more words began to be incorporated into French from other languages, especially English, but also from Arabic, and Chinese. For example, the words sandwich, shampooing, and week-end are of English origin.

Today, French is spoken by about 300 million people around the globe, on ALL continents. This makes it the fifth most spoken language in the world!

What countries do speak French?

French is a very widely spoken language, with about 300 million speakers around the world. French is the official language of 29 countries, mostly in Africa and Europe, but also in North America, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Countries and territories where French is an official language:

  • Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo.
  • Europe: Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Monaco, Switzerland.
  • North America: Canada, Haiti.
  • Caribbean: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin.
  • Oceania: French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna.

There are also other countries where French is spoken as a second or minority language, such as Algeria, Andorra, Cambodia, Egypt, Laos, Lebanon, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Tunisia, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.

How many people speak French?

According to the Organization of International Francophonie, there are about 220 million native speakers and 100 million second-language speakers of French in the world. This makes French the fifth most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, and Spanish. French is also the second most studied foreign language in the world, after English.

people speak french

How many people study French as a second language?

Also according to Francophonie, there are about 120 million learners of French as a second language in the world. French is the second most studied foreign language in the world, after English.

The most popular regions for studying French as a second language are Europe, Africa, and North America. In Europe, French is the most commonly studied foreign language after English, with 27% of students learning it at the upper secondary level in 2020. In Africa, French is widely taught as a second language in many countries, especially those that are former French colonies or members of the Francophonie. In North America, Canada has a large population of French speakers and learners, with about 2.4 million young Canadians studying French or English as a second language, and 449,745 of them in French immersion programs outside Quebec.

French is popular in many countries in Asia, Latin America, and Oceania as well. For example, in China, there are about 100,000 students of French; and in Brazil, there are over 500,000!

How many words are in the French language vocabulary?

The number of words in the French language vocabulary is not easy to determine, as it depends on how you define and count a word. However, some sources have tried to estimate the size of the French vocabulary based on different criteria.

One criterion is the formal vocabulary, which consists of the words that are listed in dictionaries and recognized by the authorities of the French language, such as the Académie Française. According to this criterion, the current edition of the Dictionnaire de français published by Larousse, which is one of the most reputable French dictionaries, contains full entries for about 135,000 words in current use. Another dictionary, Le Grand Robert de la langue française, claims to have about 500,000 definitions of words and meanings, but this figure includes different variants and senses of the same word.

Another criterion is the total estimated number of existing words, which includes not only the formal vocabulary, but also the informal, slang, regional, technical, and obsolete words that are not recorded in dictionaries or used by most speakers. According to this criterion, some linguists have estimated that the French vocabulary has about 600,000 words, of which only 150,000 are commonly used. However, this number is constantly changing, as new words are created, borrowed, or modified every day.

Therefore, the number of words in the French language vocabulary depends on how you measure it, and there is no definitive answer to this question. However, for a French learner, it is more important to focus on the words that are most relevant and useful for communication, rather than the words that are rarely used or understood.


Have you discovered some facts about the French language that you didn’t know? If you come to France to take one of our French courses you will discover many other interesting, intriguing, and fun facts about this language that you can only learn daily, experiencing French culture firsthand.

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