French (le français, pronounced [lə fʁɑ̃sɛ] or la langue française pronounced [la lɑ̃ɡ fʁɑ̃sɛːz]) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d’oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France’s past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.
French is an official language in 29 countries across multiple continents, most of which are members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), the community of 84 countries which share the official use or teaching of French. It is spoken as a first language (in descending order of the number of speakers) in France, the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick as well as other Francophone regions, Belgium (Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region), western Switzerland (cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Vaud, Valais), Monaco, partly in Luxembourg, the states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in the United States, and in northwestern Italy (region of Aosta Valley), and by various communities elsewhere.
In 2015, approximately 40% of the francophone population (including L2 and partial speakers) lived in Europe, 35% in sub-Saharan Africa, 15% in North Africa and the Middle East, 8% in the Americas, and 1% in Asia and Oceania. French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union, Of Europeans who speak other languages natively, approximately one-fifth are able to speak French as a second language. French is the second most taught foreign language in the EU. French is also the 18th most natively spoken language in the world, 6th most spoken language by total number of speakers and the second or third most studied language worldwide (with about 120 million current learners). As a result of French and Belgian colonialism from the 16th century onward, French was introduced to new territories in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Most second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, in particular Gabon, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritius, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
French is estimated to have about 76 million native speakers and about 235 million daily, fluent speakers and another 77 to 110 million secondary speakers who speak it as a second language to varying degrees of proficiency, mainly in Africa. According to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), approximately 300 million people worldwide are “able to speak the language”, without specifying the criteria for this estimation or whom it encompasses.According to a demographic projection led by the Université Laval and the Réseau Démographie de l’Agence universitaire de la francophonie, the total number of French speakers will reach approximately 500 million in 2025 and 650 million by 2050. OIF estimates 700 million by 2050, 80% of whom will be in Africa.
French has a long history as an international language of literature and scientific standards and is a primary or second language of many international organisations including the United Nations, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked French the third most useful language for business, after English and Standard Mandarin Chinese.