UTILITY OF FRENCH
It may be good for a Futurama scenario, but in the real world, you can't make the claim "Nobody speaks French anymore." How can we measure its usability?
According to a 2014 OIF report, French has 274 million speakers in 57
countries with a collective (non-French & French) population of 1
billion. So you can have more friends and business associates. There
are 30 countries with French as an official language; 7 more, if you
count countries where it is not, but where one in five residents speak
French. There are countries like Algeria, where French is an important
communication tool for about 16 million people (but is not an official
language). It ranks second among European language spoken in Africa. It
is the second most popular second language in the world, and the second
most taught language in the world.
French is still among the top ten languages for internet usage. It
is ranked number five for internet users, four language for Wikipedia
content, third for Amazon, second for number of web sites, and the
second most frequently demanded after English on Google
Translate. Its is therefor not surprising to see in the print
world that it held a steady rank of fourth in literary translation for
a monitored period from 1979-2002. In the Democratic Leadership
Council tracking of translated books, translation into French ranked
third, with 185,000 translated between 1932 and 2006. This is
particularly significant when you consider that overall, the Bureau of
Labor Statistics predicts a growth of 46% in jobs for translators and
interpreters between 2012 and 2022. French is required or preferred in
over half of international jobs listed by the U.S. State Department.
How about tourism? Foreign tourists spend about $170 billion a year in
the US. How many are French speakers? If you search on any
general jobs database without specifying a specific area, French will
yield the second largest number of positions. Of course these figures
are bound to rise, because the predicted French-speaking population
word-wide for 2050 is 700 million. Are we really paying attention to
this when we say that the utility of French is in decline?
Canadian-US trading partnership has the highest volume of any trading
bloc in the world. Among the various calls for French in this is The
Canadian federal Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act, which requires
that all labels be bilingual in English and French. The US is the 4th
largest direct investor in France, and France is one of the three
largest investors in the US economy, which is the number one target for
French foreign direct investment. There are well over 2700 French
companies that have subsidiaries in the U.S, employing over 500,000
general, foreign-owned firms pay higher salaries than do domestic
firms, especially for more skilled and educated workers. In business,
part of the value of your acquired knowledge of French can be seen in
the foreign direct investment of countries where French is an major
official language. Let doubters beware; we've got the stats:
|Organization for International Investment 2013 Report (Foreign Direct Investment in US)
In total, foreign companies supported "support 5.6 million well-paying
American jobs with average pay of around $77,000 in 2011." (OII report)
Investment in US 2000-2012 countries out of top 9:
4. Canada $225 billion
5. France $209 billion
6. Switzerland $204 billion
7. Luxembourg $202 billion
9. Belgium $89 billion
Investment in US 2012 alone countries out of top 10:
2. France $21.78 billion
5. Canada $16.58 billion
6. Belgium $11.88 billion
8. Luxembourg $6.2 billion
France is also the 5th largest investor in stock in the United
States. The most recent Bloomberg ratings put French as a business
language third after English and Mandarin (See note at bootom of page). Looking at 2013 export
dollars derived only from countries where French is an official
language, the figure is nearly $400 billion dollars, supporting or
creating 2,400,000 US jobs. Three out of the US's top ten trading
partners for 2013 were countries where French is an important official
language. In this survey, I left out a number of high-yield
trade-partner countries with a high percentage of French speakers, and
where I know that French is used heavily in trade. You may be
interested in seeing. Actually 20% of all international trade is
accomplished with the help of French..
French is among the easiest languages for English speakers to learn (a
category 1, according to the Foreign Service Institute difficulty
You can actually learn it in school with a short intensive
immersion experience, to a point of proficiency that is satisfactory
for most jobs requiring international skills. Nearly a third of English
words have some kind of etymological relationship to French. The
percentage gets higher with the English word's frequency of use. French
is also an infinitely expandable skill for proficient independent
learners. Knowing French makes it easier to learn Spanish. As with any
language, French skills embrace many of the aspects of life lived by
French speakers; even more, because of how many countries and cultures
communicate in French. Below, I have listed links which will give
you important details and data on the use and usability of French:
You Wouldn't Know They Majored in French
Le poids économique de la langue française dans le monde (Carrère et Masood), 2012, 143 pp.
The status of French in the world
French Technology Status - Technologie GGG (11/16/12, by Shelly Waylon)
U.S.-French Commercial Ties (2008)
French-Speaking Business Connections in America
Want To Know The Language Of The Future? The Data Suggests It Could Be...French
U.S.-French Commercial Ties (2008)
partial list of international organizations which have French as an official language
ENGLISH, MANDARIN, FRENCH???
Many of us teaching French were relatively happy to see
Bloomberg Rankings : The Languages of Business 
I was also, even though Mandarin ranks above French. However, I, in my
economic simplicity, had a hard time seeing the full connection between
the criteria and the score which determined the ranking. Among my
There were 29 countries where French was official at the time of the article.
There were 65.02 million French in 2010. The number of French speakers has to have been higher than 67.8 million.
I see nothing for foreign direct investment.
There was no estimate of Mandarin required for jobs.
The US business community has become excited about learning Mandarin.
In 2007 China's GDP growth rate was announced to be 14.2%, while the US
GDP growth rate was 1.8%. Many predicted that China's economy would
soon be larger than our own, and the 21st century was dubbed with the
neologism "Chinese Century". Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks
Mandarin. Certainly Mandarin learning is a rewarding experience, but
for me, there are disconnectts in the Bloomberg ranking.
In my general economic observation, I have not restricted myself to G20
or top 20 [GDP] countries. I note the following about 2013 cumulative
foreign direct investment of countries, according to
From countries where Mandarin is an official language = $40,113 millions
From countries where French is an official language = $940,187 millions
I tried to assess the importance of French in individual states of the
US. My criteria were three key economic factors for working Americans.
I chose 2015 exports, because every $ billion in revenues supports or
creates 6000 jobs. I chose foreign direct investment, because the
International Trade Administration lists the top four national
investors in each state. These provide millions of relatively
high-salary jobs. I considered jobs requiring language skills.
For exporting, considering countries only where foreign languages were
important official languages, I found French to be number one in the
export revenues of 40 states, Mandarin in 7, and Spanish in 3.
For foreign direct investment, there were no countries where Mandarin
was an important official language in the top four in any state. This
is true of only 5 states for French. French is represented in the
remaining 45 states; two of four in 24 states and 3 or 4 in three
For jobs available on May 22, 2016 requiring some skill in a language
other than English, and using Indeed.com, French was number two in 40
states, number three in 9 and number 4 in one. In only 2 states was
Mandarin ahead of French in the number of jobs. Generally, Spanish
preceded French. In 3 states it was German, in 3, Japanese, in 2,
Portuguese, in 1, Italian.
While I am not in a position to contradict the conclusion of the
Bloomberg ranking, while I have no integrated point system for my
criteria, I would contend that for working Americans, knowing French is
an important career asset. I should point out also that French seems to
rank near the top in other assessments of the value of foreign
languages in business.
TennesseeBob Peckham , PhD
Director, Globe-Gate Research
Made in Tennessee to bring you the world