French language (France and worldwide): Clichés, Facts and More!

French language (France and worldwide): Clichés, Facts and More!

How many people speak the French language around the world?

France has an estimated population of 67 million people and the official language is French. Over 80 million people speak French as a native language worldwide. If we include non-native speakers, this increases to about 220 million worldwide. French is an official language in 29 countries. This includes its DOM-TOMs (remaining overseas territories from the colonial era), which still have French as their mother tongue because they are still an official part of France.

What are the most common clichés about the French?

Talking about the French language often leads to stereotypes about the French. Here’s a small selection:

  • “The French say “ooh là là” a lot” – well, it’s true, they do say it a fair bit but not as we use it in the English-speaking world. There’s the good “oh là là”, used to express admiration, there’s the bad “oh là là”, used to express annoyance, and there’s the really bad “Oh là là là là (là là)” – yes, it’s got to be at least four ’s! – for when you’re in a real pickle. It’s all in the intonation! Three little but powerful words!
  • “French people are unruly and impolite” – this is a famous stereotype but this comes down to understanding cultural differences. The French are very “matter-of-fact” and “straight-to-the-point”. They don’t beat around the bush, and sometimes, this can come across as abrupt or brash but in actual fact, most of them are very well behaved and will treat you with respect.
  • “French workers complain a lot and are always on strike” – trade unions are very important in France and they have achieved a lot for workers’ rights over the years. So, while it is true that workers will often go on strike if they disagree with the way they are being treated, it also shows that the French stand up for their rights.
  • “The French spend hours sat around the dining table, eating and drinking” – this is true! 2 hours and 22 minutes per day on average in actual fact. Meal times in France are sacred! They are a time to let go, de-stress, socialise, take stock, catch up and enjoy wonderful French food!

Fun facts about the French language

  • French is another Romance language, derived from Vulgar Latin.
  • It is the only language (besides English) spoken on every continent.
  • French has lots of homophones (same pronunciation different spelling and meaning), which can make for rather funny reading! For example, “I saw a green worm going towards a green glass glass” becomes “j’ai vu un ver vert allant vers un verre en verre vert”!
  • About 45% of modern English words are of French origin – after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, French became the official language of the court. This resulted in a great number of French words and expressions being incorporated into English.
  • “Oeil” (eye) is the only word that starts with a different letter when in plural, “yeux” (eyes).
  • The shortest town name is Y in Somme, northern France.
  • The longest word in the dictionary is “anticonstitutionnellement” (anticonstitutionally) at 25 letters.

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