Spoken by 12% of the EU population, French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union, after German, English and Italian; it is also the third most widely known language of the Union, after English and German (33% of the EU population report to know how to speak English, whilst 22% of Europeans understand German and 20% French).
Under the Constitution of France, French has been the official language of the Republic since 1992 (although the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts made it mandatory for legal documents in 1539). France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education except in specific cases (though these dispositions are often ignored) and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words.
In Belgium, French is the official language of Wallonia (excluding a part of the East Cantons, which are German-speaking) and one of the two official languages—along with Dutch—of the Brussels-Capital Region, where it is spoken by the majority of the population often as their primary language.
French is one of the four official languages of Switzerland (along with German, Italian and Romansh) and is spoken in the western part of Switzerland called Romandie, of which Geneva is the largest city. The language divisions in Switzerland do not coincide with political subdivisions and some cantons have bilingual status for example, cities such Biel/Bienne or cantons such as Valais-Fribourg-Berne. French is the native language of about 20% of the Swiss population and is spoken by 50.4% of the population.
A majority of the world's French-speaking population lives in Africa. According to the 2007 report by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 Francophone countries can speak French as either a first or a second language. This number does not include the people living in non-Francophone African countries who have learned French as a foreign language. Due to the rise of French in Africa, the total French-speaking population worldwide is expected to reach 700 million people in 2050. French is the fastest growing language on the continent (in terms of either official or foreign language).
French is mostly a second language in Africa, but it has become a first language in some urban areas, such as the region of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire and in Libreville, Gabon. There is not a single African French, but multiple forms that diverged through contact with various indigenous African languages.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where the French language is most likely to expand, because of the expansion of education and rapid population growth. It is also where the language has evolved the most in recent years. Some vernacular forms of French in Africa can be difficult to understand for French speakers from other countries, but written forms of the language are very closely related to those of the rest of the French-speaking world.
French is the second most common language in Canada, after English, and both are official languages at the federal level. French is the sole official language in the province of Quebec, being the mother tongue for some 7 million people, or almost 80.1% (2006 Census) of the province. About 95.0% of the people of Quebec speak French as either their first or second language, and for some as their third language. Quebec is also home to the city of Montreal, which is the world's second largest French-speaking city, by number of first language speakers. New Brunswick and Manitoba are the only officially bilingual provinces, though full bilingualism is enacted only in New Brunswick, where about one third of the population is Francophone. French is also an official language of all of the territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon). Out of the three, Yukon has the most French speakers, comprising just under 4% of the population. Furthermore, while French is not an official language in Ontario, the French Language Services Act ensures that provincial services are to be available in the language. The Act applies to areas of the province where there are significant Francophone communities, namely Eastern Ontario and Northern Ontario. Elsewhere, sizable French-speaking minorities are found in southern Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and the Port au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the unique Newfoundland French dialect was historically spoken. Smaller pockets of French speakers exist in all other provinces. The city of Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is also effectively bilingual, as it is on the other side of a river from Quebec, opposite the major city of Gatineau, and is required to offer governmental services in French as well as English.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2011), French is the fourth most-spoken language in the United States after English, Spanish, and Chinese, when all forms of French are considered together and all dialects of Chinese are similarly combined. French remains the second most-spoken language in the states of Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Louisiana is home to many distinct dialects, collectively known as Louisiana French. Cajun French has the largest number of speakers, mostly living in Acadiana. According to the 2000 United States Census, there are over 194,000 people in Louisiana who speak French at home, the most of any state if Creole French is excluded. New England French, essentially a variant of Canadian French, is spoken in parts of New England. Missouri French was historically spoken in Missouri and Illinois (formerly known as Upper Louisiana), but is nearly extinct today.
French is one of Haiti's two official languages. It is the principal language of writing, school instruction, and administrative use. It is spoken by all educated Haitians and is used in the business sector. It is also used in ceremonial events such as weddings, graduations and church masses. About 70%–80% of the country's population have Haitian Creole as their first language; the rest speak French as a first language. The second official language is the recently standardized Haitian Creole, which virtually the entire population of Haiti speaks. Haitian Creole is one of the French-based creole languages, drawing the large majority of its vocabulary from French, with influences from West African languages, as well as several European languages. Haitian Creole is closely related to Louisiana Creole and the creole from the Lesser Antilles.
French was the official language of the colony of French Indochina, comprising modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It continues to be an administrative language in Laos and Cambodia, although its influence has waned in recent years. In colonial Vietnam, the elites primarily spoke French, while many servants who worked in French households spoke a French pidgin known as "Tây Bồi" (now extinct). After French rule ended, South Vietnam continued to use French in administration, education, and trade. Since the Fall of Saigon and the opening of a unified Vietnam's economy, French has gradually been effectively displaced as the main foreign language of choice by English. French nevertheless maintains its colonial legacy by being spoken as a second language by the elderly and elite populations and is presently being revived in higher education and continues to be a diplomatic language in Vietnam.
A former French colony, Lebanon designates Arabic as the sole official language, while a special law regulates cases when French can be publicly used. French is widely used as a second language by the Lebanese, and is taught in many schools as a secondary language along with Arabic and English. The language is also used on bank notes, on road signs, and on official buildings (alongside Arabic). Similarly, Syria was also a French colony until 1943, but the French language is largely extinct in the country and is only limited to some members of the elite and middle classes. A significant French-speaking community is also present in Israel, primarily among the community of Maghrebi Jews, and many secondary schools offer French as a foreign language. The United Arab Emirates has joined the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie as an observer, and Qatar has joined as a "member-state". However, in both countries French is not spoken by almost any of the general population or migrant workers, but spoken by a small minority of those who invest in Francophone countries or have other financial or family ties. Their entrance into the organisation was aided a good deal by their investments into the Organisation and France itself.
French is an official language of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu where 45% of the population can speak French. In the French special collectivity of New Caledonia, 97% of the population can speak, read and write French, whereas only 1% have no knowledge of French. In French Polynesia, 95% of the population can speak, read and write French, whereas only 2% have no knowledge of French. In the French collectivity of Wallis and Futuna, 78% of the population can speak, read and write French, whereas 17% have no knowledge of French.