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Guest post - Cool facts about the French language

Hi! This wonderful post was prepared by my dear colleague and friend Jehanne Henin. Jehanne is a native French speaker and a professional translator from Russian, English and Croatian into French specializing in EU affairs, environment, renewable energy and tourism. You can learn more about her if you visit her website. Jehanne is also an active Twitterer, so I am sure she will be happy to see you among her Twitter followers. You can find her Twitter profile here. So here are some great facts about the French language that Jehanne prepared for you:

  1. French is spoken by more than 220 million people worldwide, with about 80 million speaking it as their first language. French is the 9th most spoken language in the world and is, with English, one of the two languages being spoken on each of the 5 continents.
  2. French in an official language, alone or with other languages, in 32 countries.
  3. French is the second most commonly taught second language in the world, after English.
  4. French is the second most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union (16%) after German (23%) and before English (15,9%).
  5. French is a working language of many international and non-governmental organisations, such as the UN, the EU, NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the International Labor Organization, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International and Doctors without Borders. French is also the only official language of the Universal Postal Union.
  6. With about 5% of the Internet pages written in this language, French is the third most used language on the Internet, after English (45%) and German (7%). French is also the third language on Facebook, after English and Spanish.
  7. French has more than a million words (although only 100,000 of them are included the “Grand Robert” dictionary) and 20,000 new ones are created every year.
  8. New words appearing in the recently published 2013 edition of the Petit Robert dictionary include “belgitude” (set of traits of Belgian culture), “indignés” (to design the Indignants movement), “anosognosie” (anosognosia, a condition affecting memory, which the former French President Jacques Chirac has recently been diagnosed with), “psychoter” (the fact of being paranoid about something), “comater“ (to be lethargic, as if in a coma), “agence de notation” (credit rating agency), “dette souveraine” (sovereign debt), “cyberdépendance” (Internet addiction), “billet” (blog post) and “nuage informatique” (cloud computing).
  9. The Académie française, the official authority that regulates the French language, was founded in 1635 by Cardinal de Richelieu. It was the first body of this kind. Today, most of the world’s main languages have a similar type of institution. English is the only exception.
  10.  At the time of the French Revolution, 75% of French citizens did not speak French as a mother tongue. Each region had its own local dialect (patois).
  11. According to the dictionaries, “anticonstitutionnellement” is the longest word in the French language. However, longer words do exist – for example hexakosioihexekontahexaphobie (29 letters) which is the scientific word for the fear of the number 666.
  12. The letter ‘w’ was initially not part of the French alphabet. The 1964 “Le Robert” dictionary was the first to mention it as the 23d letter of the alphabet. The words containing this letter are all of foreign origin.
  13. “Cinq” (five) and “coq” (rooster) are the only two French words that end in “q”.
  14. “Où” (where) is the only word where the u has a grave accent. This also means that the key “ù” on the French keyboard has been created only for this word.
  15. The words “délice” (delight), “amour” (love) and “orgue” (organ) have the particularity to be masculine when singular, but feminine when plural.


  1. I love the French language, but I do have some questions about the post.

    "With about 5% of the Internet pages written in this language, French is the third most used language on the Internet, after English (45%) and German (7%)." ..... What about Chinese? Is it included in this statistic?

    1. French is the 9th most spoken language in the world and is, with English, one of the two languages being spoken on each of the 5 continents. .... Where do they speak French in Australia?

    6. I read somewhere that Chinese is the most widely used language on the Internet, which would make French No. 4.

  2. " French is the 9th most spoken language in the world and is, with English, one of the two languages being spoken on each of the 5 continents. .... Where do they speak French in Australia? "

    Australia is NOT a continent. It is only one of the countries of Oceania (one of the 5 continents). Where's French spoken in Oceania? New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia, Vanuatu.

  3. Australia is a continent, at least that's what they teach in schools in Europe and United States. See the definition of continents from Wikipedia below.

    French Polynesia is not a part of the Australian continent, neither geographically, nor culturally or politically. Culturally or politically it is part of Europe.

    A continent is one of several very large landmasses on Earth. They are generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, with seven regions commonly regarded as continents—they are (from largest in size to smallest): Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

  4. Hi Steve! Sorry for being so long to reply, I had not seen your comments.

    According to what I've read, French would be the third most used language on the Internet by number of pages, while Chinese would be the second most used language by number of users (after English and before Spanish). Of course, I have not personnally counted the number of pages written in French or in other languages and the web evolves rapidly so, like all statistics, these one have to be taken with a pinch of salt ;-)

    Now, your second question is really interesting! At first, I intended to reply that of course Anonymous is right, that Oceania is the continent, not Australia (which is what I was taught in my Belgian school). But as I was looking for English-language resources confirming this, I was baffled that I could not find any. It seems that English-speaking countries consider Australia as a continent, while for French-speaking countries, the continent is Oceania (see the French version of the Wikipedia page you quoted).
    I mostly used French sources for this post and when I wrote that sentence, I never imagined for a second that the English word "continents" would not exactly imply the same thing as the French word. This is a good example of cultural issue in translation and I would be curious to know what are the continents in other languages.

    So thank you Steve, I have learnt something thanks to you!

  5. hi, I'm a beginner of French language. I appreciate your post. Now, I'm living in Paris. Can you tell me where I get the quick French learning center? Regards, @Claudia


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