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7 Unexpected Countries That Speak French

French - The more you know - Food for thought

Have you ever wondered why French is so popular? A World Population Review report shows that about 76 million people are native French speakers, with 274 million speaking French fluently. With French being the second most widely spoken language in the European Union, the numbers only continue to rise. 

French, an Indo-European Romance language, is the official language in 29 countries that include Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, French Polynesia and France of course. Some countries like Belgium and Luxembourg also have French as the co-official language alongside other languages. However, it might surprise you that some unexpected countries speak a great deal of French!

Let’s take you through the surprising list of countries to see for yourself!

1. Canada

You may have guessed it, but Canada had to be on this list for its unique relationship to the French language. More than 20% of some 37 million Canadians speak French in total! Although the country is notable for its bilingual features, Canadian French is still very significant in the entire landscape. 

The Canadian versions of French sound close to the language spoken in France during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1604, French immigrants flooded Canadian settlements in Nova Scotia province, now known as Quebec. Descendants of these immigrants developed a French culture quite different from the original French origins their parents emerged from. 

French evolved from main settlements like Quebec City and Montreal to indigenous regions like Abenaki, Ottawa, and Potawomi. If you’ve ever encountered Parisian French and loved it, then you might be enthralled listening to Canadian French.

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2. Madagascar

You were certainly not expecting this one! Ever watched the animated film Madagascar and imagined yourself at the beautiful isolated islands brimming with fresh palms and vibrant beaches? Indeed, you weren’t guessing the French ever set foot there. French native speakers make up less than 5% of the entire populace.

The French briefly invaded Madagascar in 1883. Although the visit was short-lived, the French have come to share the tables with Malagasy, which is still the prevalent mother tongue of the indigenous peoples.

French evolved in to becoming the central medium for instruction and learning throughout Madagascar. So, you’d typically find more people who speak French but are native speakers of Malagasy, the lingua franca of Madagascar.

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3. Vietnam

For those that skipped their world geography classes, it may be quite unbelievable to learn that the French invaded Vietnam, the neighboring country to China. This stronghold ultimately made Vietnam a French-speaking country. So behind the rich tapestry of forests, mountains, beaches, deltas and waterfalls you’ll find about 1% of its people speaking French.

The involuntary shift to French began after the French had gained a foothold in Vietnam, turning it into French Indochina around the 18th century. Western education swept into Vietnam for a brief moment and that’s how more French came to stay.

The beauty of Vietnam makes it a buzzing hub for tourists to share in its rich history and culture. That culture includes a sizeable chunk of French living.

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4. Mauritius

The primary languages in this small island country are Creole and Bhojpuri. You’ll find this hidden gem of a country has about 4.4% of its population speaking French. What appears like an isolated island with exciting wildlife and aquatic life also has a great mix of French culture.

Like many smaller regions scattered through the globe, the Europeans took over the state of Mauritius. After the Dutch abandoned Mauritius the French came in and occupied the island in September 1715. When Guillaume Dufresne d’Arsel landed, he took rule of Mauritius and renamed the island Isle de France.

Long after colonization ended, Mauritius still retains its French culture. Due to the large influx of tourists into these islands, it requires a nearly universal means of communication. French has continued to grow around Mauritius and has eased into a significant lingua Franca of the isle.

Ad Astra Mauritius is a surprising French speaking country

5. Seychelles

Here’s yet another breathtaking island with exciting wildlife and a surprisingly 0.7% of native French speakers. Seychelles has been multi-ethnic for centuries and a settlement for different many different races of people.

French colonizers traveled and settled on these islands at the end of the 18th century. Although Seychelles’ indigenous people took back the power after about 40 years, they cannot wish away the influence of the French movement. This movement is quite a good thing: making the islands home to several languages and cultures, including English, French, and Seychellois Creole. Seychelles is an exquisite collection of 115 unforgettable islands, beaches, and natural parks.

As with other island countries, tourism has opened doors for French-speakers to thrive in and out of the island country

Ad Astra Seychelles is a surprising French speaking country

6. Rwanda

Remember this one for your next Pub Trivia match. That’s right, Africa’s best holiday location is also a French-speaking country with their other primary languages being Kinyarwanda, English, and Swahili. Aside from the general use of Kinyarwanda by the local population, about 6% of the population speak French.

French was formerly the lingua franca for education and training. Even after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, believed to have been endorsed by France, the Government of Rwanda switched the entire education system from French to English. With Rwanda’s frequent language shifts in the schools French may be experiencing a decline in the educational field, but it is still frequently used in the streets.

Ad Astra Rwanda is a surprising French speaking country
Ad Astra Rwanda is a surprising French speaking country

7. Romania

The Bela Lugosi and Dracula fans out there know of Romania and the beautiful Carpathian mountains! Romania’s population of 19 million is home to several second languages, including 28% French speakers and some English. This beautiful countries connection to the French language and culture have evolved and intertwined over time.

The origin of the French language in Romania began with its string of traditional ties to France. As one of the most expansive nations, France has maintained a way of maintaining its heritage wherever it sets foot. That’s how Romania got inducted into the Francophone Commission in 1993.

The more Romanians appreciate and explore French cultures in their lives, the more people will continually speak French as a second mother tongue. What a delectable mix of historical cultures and languages!

Ad Astra Romania is a surprising French speaking country

Final Thoughts

Maybe you didn’t already know about some of the countries on the list above, but use this as a jumping off point­­ to explore a bit more about how languages can spread and integrate into different cultures. Not only do these countries speak French, but they are also deeply rooted in French history and cultures. 

At Ad Astra we consider the nuance of the French language dialects and regions in all of our translation and interpretation work. It’s through this exploration of people and their history that you truly begin to see connecting threads through the globe. This is why Ad Astra should be your number one go-to for language access and cultural connections through language!