Are you a beginner language learner and want to know every single detail about the French language? In this guide, we will provide you with a detailed overview of the French language including its structure, status, and alphabet and writing patterns.


French language (français) belongs to the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family. It, like all Romance languages, evolved from Vulgar Latin, which was spoken by Roman invaders. Prior to the Roman invasion of what is now France, the territory was inhabited by a Celtic people known as Gauls by the Romans. The Gaulish language had little influence on French.

how to learn French efficiently

From the third century on, Gaul was invaded by Germanic tribes, whose languages had a profound impact on the region’s Vulgar Latin, particularly on its vocabulary. King Francis I of France made French the official language of administration and court proceedings in 1539, replacing Latin as the country’s official written language. The language spoken in the 17th and 18th centuries became the basis of modern French after a period of unification and standardization.

French was the Francemaplanguage of culture and diplomacy throughout the Western world beginning in the 17th century. The French were introduced to the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia as a result of European colonization.

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French language status

French is spoken in 53 countries, making it one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. The number of French first- and second-language speakers worldwide is estimated to be between 220 and 300 million people. It is a national of 29 countries, either officially, co-officially, or de facto. Countries that speak French as a first or second language are spread across four continents. France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg are four of them.

Canada and Haiti are both in the Americas. Martinique and Guadeloupe are also French overseas departments. The remainder are former French colonies in Africa and on Indian and Pacific Ocean islands. In Arabic-speaking Algeria, Tunis, and Morocco, French is a popular second language. The spread of French is due to France’s political, economic, scientific, and cultural influence. The following countries have French as their native language. Please keep in mind that some of the figures are estimates and do not clearly distinguish between first- and second-language speakers.

Now you know about French-speaking countries and have a fair idea about the popularity of the language.

France66 millionofficial language
Canada7 millionofficial language used in all domains, along with English
Belgium4 millionofficial language, along with Dutch and German
Switzerland1,5 million 1st language and 2.5 million 2nd language speakersofficial language, along with German, Italian and Romansch
Algeria16 millionno official status
Italy (Aosta Valley)95,000official regional language, along with Italian and Slovenian
French Polynesia184,000 1st language and 2nd language speakersofficial language, along with Tahitian
Gabon1.24 millionofficial language, the only language of formal education
Lebanon1.9 million 1st language speakersofficial language along with Arabic
New Caledonia53,000official language
Réunion2,400 1st language and 161,000 2nd language speakersofficial language
Equatorial Guinea75,000-100,000 2nd language speakersofficial language along with Spanish; increasingly used for wider communication
Benin, Republic of the Congo,
Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Luxembourg,
Madagascar, Mauritius, Monaco, Tunisia
10,000 – 40,000official or co-official language
Andorra, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Guadelupe, Mali, Martinique, Niger,
Rwanda, Seychelles,
under 10,000official or co-official language
Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon,
Democratic Republic of the Congo,
French Guiana, Guinea
no estimates availableofficial or co-official language

French dialects


European French is typically divided into two major dialects, each of which includes many regional varieties.

1.    Langue d’oil

Northern and central French dialects, including what is now Belgium. One of the dialects of langue d’oil spoken in Île de France was françien. It became the foundation for standard French. Even after it became a major international language of culture and diplomacy, it did not become dominant throughout France.

2.    Langue d’oc

Southern varieties of French, including dialects from Switzerland and the Italian Val d’Aosta, which are closely related to Catalan.


The pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar of all Canadian French varieties differ from Standard French. Canadian French is usually classified into three types:

1. Québécois is the official language of Québec. The overwhelming majority of Canadian francophones speak it.

2. Franco-Ontarians are people who speak French in Ontario, Western Canada, Labrador, and New England. It is regarded as a very conservative French dialect.

3. Acadiens is the Acadian language spoken in some parts of the Canadian Maritimes.


Africa has the world’s largest population of French speakers. African French varieties are spoken in 31 African countries, with over 100 million first- and second-language speakers. In terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, all African French varieties differ from Standard French. They are typically classified into several groups.

Varieties of French spoken in Western, Central, and East Africa, with an estimated 75 million first and second language speakers; Maghreb French spoken in Northwest Africa, with an estimated 36 million first and second language speakers; and Indian Ocean (Réunion, Mauritius, and Seychelles) with an estimated 1.6 million first and second language speakers.

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Sound system Vowels

French has a rich vowel system. In addition to the oral vowels given below, there are four nasal vowels /ɛ, ̃œ̃, ã, ɔ̃).


– /i/ = ee in beet

– /e/ = ai in bait

– /ɛ/ = e in bet

– /y, ø, œ/ have no equivalents in English. They are pronounced with rounded lips.

– /ə/ = u in bud

– /a/ = a in bat

– /u/ = oo in boot

– /o/ = oa in boat

– /ɔ/ = ough in bought

– /ɑ/ = o in pop


The consonant system in French is relatively simple, as shown below:    


– /p, t, k/ are not aspirated, i.e., they are produced without a puff of air, as they are in English.

– /ʃ/ = sh in shop

– /ʒ/ = s in vision

– /ɲ/ = first n in canyon

– /ʁ/ has no equivalent in English

French word order

The most common word order in French is Subject-Verb-Object, but a variety of other orders can be used to indicate topic and emphasis. Word order is further complicated by interaction among compound verb constructions, object and adverbial pronouns, inversion, imperatives, adverbs, and negative structures. Most adjectives come after the noun, for example, un chat noir ‘a black cat’.

French vocabulary

The majority of French vocabulary is Latin-based, for example, frère ‘brother’ from Latin frater. As a result, much of its basic vocabulary is shared with other Romance languages. According to a study conducted by Walter and Walter (1998), 12% of common French words found in a typical dictionary such as the Petit Larousse were borrowed from other languages. Around 25% of these loanwords are relatively recent English borrowings (for example, le rostbif, le weekend). Italian, ancient Germanic languages, Arabic, German Celtic, Spanish, Dutch, Greek, Persian, and Sanskrit are among the other languages that have contributed to the French lexicon.

French writing

The Latin alphabet was a natural choice for scribes who began writing French texts in the 11th century, despite the fact that it was less than ideal for a language whose sound system differed significantly from that of Latin. Several changes in the French sound system during the 14th and 16th centuries caused a further divergence between spoken French and its written representation. Despite some attempts to reform French spelling over the last two centuries, no major changes have occurred. Since 1740, the orthography of modern French has remained unchanged.

The modern French alphabet is given below:

A aB bC cD dE eF fG gH hI iJ jK kL lM m
N nO oP pQ qR rS sT tU uV vW wX xY yZ z

– There are three accent marks over vowels: acute over é; grave over á and é; cirumflex over â, ê, î, ô, û.

– Diaeresis, or two dots over the vowel, shows that each vowel is pronounced separately as in Noël ‘Christmas.’

– A cedilla placed below the letter ç indicates that it is pronounced as [s].

– There are two ligatures: œ and æ, e.g.  œil ‘eye,’ bœuf ‘beef,’ et cætera ‘et cetera.’

– w and k are used exclusively in loan words or foreign names.

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In this post, we have provided you with a detailed overview of the French language. We recommend you polish your French speaking and writing skills before you visit any French-speaking country or region.

If you are wondering how long is it to learn French, go check out your learning patterns. Set up a steady learning schedule. Take advantage of different learning resources available online and never give up on your goal!

Learn French on italki

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