A general introduction to French as a subject

A. French for what?
The so far best answer to this question was given by the American actor Mel Brooks in her book “Kenneth Tynan’s Show people”. she narrated : “We travelled in a big truck trough the nation of France, on our way to Belgium and every time we passed trough a little town, we’d see these signs: “Boulangerie” , “Patisserie” and “Rue” this, “Rue” that… When we got to our hundred and eightieth French village, I screamed at the top of my lungs: ‘The joke is over! English please!’ I couldn’t believe a whole country couldn’t speak English. One third of a nation, all right, but not a whole country”! Briefly, this is to say that there are countries where ability to speak French is a must.

Learning a new language is like opening a new window on the world. It not only enables you to communicate with more people, but also it makes you become an open minded person.

An open minded person is someone whose the mind is not enclosed in one and exclusive vision of the world. An open minded person doesn’t think that his/her language, culture, traditions, customs, values, behavior, mentality and beliefs are the best ones or are universal. In fact there are people who think that the world starts and ends to the same old place where they were born and have been confined (they think the only people who are people are those who look, think and talk like them), yet there are other places and people out there which/who are worth being discovered. And to discover other places and people, you don’t only need to travel, but also to learn foreign languages, especially those which are spoken on a large scale.

Mao Tse-Tung explained better the above mentioned situation, saying that when you have always been confined to the same place where you were born, you end up becoming a narrow minded person: “You tend to think too small like a frog in the bottom of the well! It thinks the sky is as big as the top if the well; if it surfaced, it would have an entirely different view!”

As a matter of fact, the language offers insights into the culture, the mentality and the way of life of a country, and as we know, different cultures are groups of people who label the world differently. So, languages give them the means to shape their respective view of the world. In other words, what is normal to you – according to your culture – is not also universal! Therefore, when you find yourself disturbed or upset about your interactions with people of the foreign country where you are, you are rather supposed to do a cultural adjustment (to adapt yourself), and this comes at the cost of a sustained effort because it requires that you try not to judge the local people before you have understood them. And to understand them better, you first need to learn their language.

According to Craig Storti, in his book “The Art of Crossing Cultures” Second Edition, one of the advantages of cultural adjustment is that the better you understand the local culture, the harder it is for the locals to hide behind it. In this context, it is interesting for instance to note that the Japanese, unlike most people, do not always appreciate it when a foreigner speaks their language well! Part of the reason for this is that fluency in the language allows the foreigner to penetrate the “public persona” (public image) the Japanese so carefully cultivate, and come to deeply know the individual personality beneath. This in turn cancels the natural advantage the notoriously formal Japanese have in dealing with outsiders, particularly Westerners, who wear their thoughts and feelings on their sleeves. it is possible that the Japanese record of success in business is as much a function of their infamous inscrutability as it is their way with lasers and microchips!

Another consequence of a cultural adjustment is the sense of security it allows you to feel! In fact do not forget that the stranger is just as afraid at you as you are at him/her. Ignorance of other culture is what gives you fear and it is by learning about each other’s culture that you develop respect and mutual esteem. To truly understand a country and its culture, you have to be part of it and this implies first of all to learn their language because the relation between the language and the culture that lays at the heart of the society is tight. We read from the above mentioned book (by Craig Storti) that “ignorance is the breeding ground of fear and anxiety. Not knowing what the locals will do or how they will react to what you do next produces a constant tension and feeling of unease. You can never be altogether confident or comfortable, never free of the almost palpable suspicion that what you don’t know can indeed hurt you. Instead of such a situation, once you begin to understand the culture and learn what is appropriate and what is not, you can release your grip on your instincts and let your personality lease. In a word you can relax. The relief you feel is enormous and the local people find it much easier to be with you”!

The same writer goes on saying: “Another great advantage of becoming culturally effective is the ability to see the world from a new perspective. You begin to understand that the behavior that makes no sense to you might make perfect sense to others and vice –versa. You are not so quick to judge anymore or at least to judge quite so harshly. You begin to think more seriously about even to tolerate opinions and actions you would have dismissed before! And to strengthen his words, the author cites two interesting quotes from other writers:

“Those who like to feel they are always right and who attach a high importance to their own opinions should stay at home. When one is travelling, convictions are mislaid as easily as spectacles, but unlike spectacles, they are not easily replaced”! Aldous Huxley

“A man has no business to travel in foreign countries who cannot make up his mind to conform to their customs”! John Murray in ‘Murray’s Handbook for Northern Europe’
In clear words, we might find the habits and customs of people from another culture to be strange, perhaps even shocking, we could easily misinterpret their actions. For example, in one culture people feel that maintaining eye contact is a sign of sincerity, whereas in other they see it as a sign of disrespect. Yet even in such cases, they would be no reason to say that they are wrong; instead we just need to get to know them better. So, speaking the language of other people offers you a great advantage because it makes you get to know and understand them better.

We are now living in a globalized world – the borders between cultures are fading away as everything becomes standardized. The ability to speak foreign languages will enable you to negotiate cultural and linguistic differences, and this is an essential skill in today’s world, which has become like one village due to the globalization, i.e where people can easily interact and intermix. In fact globalization – especially through the process of industries relocation – has increased and intensified interactions between people from different countries and cultural backgrounds (business executives who are posted abroad, technicians, various specialists and their family members as well). Presumably this exchange will result in increased understanding of (if not appreciation for) various culturally based assumptions, values and customs.

Hence, it is a big chance for one to attend an international school where foreign languages are taught, because it is a kind of enrichment through diversity. to say it all, students who are exposed to many languages, cultures and influences such as those in international schools are better placed to face the challenges of the ever changing world and true citizens of the world, because they develop a certain familiarity with many different cultures, customs and national psychologies. And this is a big advantage for them since there is no person, no nation that is perfect in every habit and thought (mentality). One must learn from another, and for this to be possible it’s better to learn foreign languages.

Here are some other important quotes that justify how useful is learning foreign languages:
1º “The limits of your language are limits of your world”! Ludwig Wittgenstein
(This is to say: The more languages you speak, the more comfortable you will feel while traveling)
2º” Apprendre à s’exprimer dans la langue de l’autre, c’est apprendre à mieux le connaitre”.
3º De nos jours, aucun peuple ne peut plus vivre replié sur lui même. Les langues étrangères représentent une possibilité d’ouverture et de progrès”.

B. French factfile
French is a world language. A world language is a language which is spoken internationally and is learnt by many people as a second language. World languages have a wide geographical distribution, and are used in international organizations and in diplomatic relations. World languages include: ENGLISH, FRENCH, ARABIC, CHINESE and SPANISH.
Currently (2015), 274 million people speak French on the five continents, and 55% of them live on the African continent. The Francophonie, the international organization of French speaking countries comprises 80 states and governments (57 real members and 23 observers).
The word “Francophonie” was forged by the French geographer Onesime Reclus (1837 – 1916). Nowadays it has 4 meanings:

  1. A meaning referring to the language, i.e people who speak French;
  2. A geographical meaning: all countries where French is spoken, either as a mother tongue, an official language, a commonly used language or a language used in administration;
  3. A spiritual meaning: An organized community whereby members are French speaking people who have a certain solidarity because they share the same values;
  4. An institutional meaning: an organized community whereby countries have to consult each others and have a certain cooperation between them.

French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English and the 8th most widely spoken language in the world, though some researchers assert it has the 9th or 10th position. However, let us remember that some of the languages that come ahead are solely spoken in one country, the only advantage for them being the huge number of the national population. This is the case for Chinese, Hindu and Malay (Malaysia & Indonesia). The special trump with French is the fact that it is present in the educational systems of almost all the regions of the world (it is the only language alongside English that is taught in every country in the world). In countries where it is spoken, French is either an official language and mother tongue, an official and administrative language, or a privileged language used in education.

The policy of promoting French relies on a network of 800 specialized agents (the in charge of cooperation in matters of French, directors of courses, commissioners in charge of education…) who operate on field; it relies also on many partnerships, either on a local level or an international level. The 151 French cultural centres, institutes and the 280 branches of “Alliance Française” supported by the Ministry of foreign Affairs (France), provide more than 500,000 learners with French courses.

French is the second language in international organizations. The ability to speak French and English is an advantage on the international job market. In fact, French is both a language of the United Nations, The European Union, UNESCO, NATO, the international Olympic Committee, The International Red Cross and International courts (La Haye & Arusha). French is the language of the three cities where the E.U institutions are headqurtered: Strasbourg (France), Brussels (Belgium), and Luxembourg.

It is estimated that in 2050, there will be 700 million French speakers in the world, 85% of them living on the African continent. The East African Community summit endorsed a proposal to make French one of it’s official languages.

C.Countries where French is spoken


  1. France
  2. Belgique
  3. Luxembourg
  4. Suisse (Suisse romande )
  5. Italie (Val d’Aoste)


  1. Egypte
  2. Tunisie
  3. Algérie
  4. Maroc
  5. Mauritanie
  6. Sénégal
  7. Guinée Conakry
  8. Mali
  9. Niger
  10. Tchad
  11. Burkinafaso
  12. Côte d’Ivoire
  13. Togo
  14. Bénin
  15. Cameroun
  16. Gabon
  17. République Centrafricaine
  18. Congo Brazzaville
  19. République Démocratique du Congo
  20. Rwanda
  21. Burundi
  22. Djibouti
  23. Seychelles
  24. Comores
  25. Mayottes
  26. Madagascar
  27. Ile Maurice
  28. La Réunion


  1. Syrie
  2. Liban


  1. Laos
  2. Vietnam
  3. Cambodge


  1. Nouvelle Calédonie
  2. Vanouatu
  3. Wallis-et-Futuna
  4. Polynésie Française (it comprises the following:


  1. Le Canada (le Québec)
  2. Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (France)
  3. Nouveau Brunswick
  4. Les États-Unis (Louisiane)


  1. Guyanne française


  1. Haïti
  2. Saint Barthélemy (Dom-Tom)
  3. Guadeloupe (Dom-Tom)
  4. Martinique (Dom-tom)

a → ah            b → bay c → say  d → day
e → er/ euh     f → ehf g → jay     h → ahsh/ harsh
i → ee              j → jee k → kah     l → ehl/
m → ehm        n → ehn                 o → oh                   p → pay
q → kew          r → her                  s → ehs                  t → tay
u →ew             v → vay                w → dooble vay      x → eeks
y →ee grehk    z → zehd