Several articles I read claim that the number of speakers of French as a second language on the African continent is growing.

For example:

  1. BBC: Why the future of French is African, April 2019

    "The practice of French is increasing on the African continent. It's a reality driven by demographics, and in West Africa, by countries surrounded by French-speaking neighbours who want to learn the language," said Céline Desbos, the director of French courses at the Institut Français cultural centre in Dakar.

  2. World Economic Forum: French is now the fifth most spoken world language and growing—thanks to Africans

    French is now the fifth most spoken world language and growing—thanks to Africans

  3. https://www.rypeapp.com/blog/the-french-speaking-world-220-million-and-growing/

    The number of people who speak French is projected to grow in the coming years. This is partly because the birth rate in France is estimated to grow making French the most widely spoken language in Europe. But it is mostly as a result of the growth of Africa in both population and economy.

  4. https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20100319-french-language-growing-especially-africa

    With 96.2 million Africans speaking French at the moment, the OIF believes that rising rates of literacy and birth rates mean there could be 700 million Frenc-speakers in the world by 2050.

    But the head of the OIF’s observatory of the French language, Alexandre Wolff, told the AFP news agency Friday that the growth is far from guaranteed. French is a second language for most of its speakers, so it will only continue to flourish if countries keep it on their school syllabuses.

  5. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3367012/C-est-impossible-French-course-world-s-commonly-spoken-language-2050.html

    But now it seems all will have paid off for the French, whose language is set to become the world's most spoken language by 2050, thanks to growing francophone populations in sub-Saharan Africa.

English being the current lingua franca of the world, I am very skeptical about that claim. Wouldn't English be more useful as a second language ? Is the proportion of French speakers as a second language on the continent really growing ?

  • @Oddthinking Wait, did you merge my accounts ??
    – Ryukyu
    Nov 9 '20 at 20:47
  • 3
    If all these articles from reputable news sources don't convince you, then I have to ask: what would convince you? What standard of evidence are you looking for here?
    – F1Krazy
    Nov 9 '20 at 21:33
  • 1
    You haven't answered my question. Are you willing to accept an answer of "yes, the proportion is growing", should that prove to be the correct answer after all?
    – F1Krazy
    Nov 9 '20 at 22:41
  • 10
    The difficulty in answering this question seems to be that you've found all the demographers making their predictions, but you don't believe them because you think every language learner makes the choice based on an evaluation thank purely ranks global utility, rather than the language of their schools, parents, friends and neighbours. It is hard to see what an evidence-based answer might look like.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 10 '20 at 6:42
  • 3
    I didn't downvote, but I suspect the reason is that you have presented a number of reliable organizations making a claim (and many more easily searchable) and no reason to doubt the claim except your own personal incredulity. If the claim had been made in a Facebook post, it would have been sensible to ask and we would have posted the above links to back up the claim's truth, and that answer would have been upvoted and accepted. So what evidence you would consider demonstrating the truth of the claim apart from the links you already have? Nov 10 '20 at 13:48

Great ! With help from the Community, I can answer my own question. Maybe someone can benefit from it too. The main point I overlooked, as pointed out in the comments by several users, was that French is growing as a second language in Africa for different reasons than English is worldwide.

French is used as a lingua franca in several multilingual African countries where no native language is currently doing the same. So it’s more practical to continue using French. Also, favouring a local language could be seen as a threat by speakers of the other native languages. The Ivory Coast, Gabon, the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (among others) are countries where French is used for the above mentioned reason.

English (Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, etc.), Portuguese (Angola, Mozambique) and Swahili (Kenya, Tanzania) are also used in other African countries for similar purposes.

Speaking of which, that’s also the main reason why English has remained a dominant language in India in opposition to Hindi. The southern non-Hindi states opposed the promotion of Hindi, seeing it as a threat, and so English is still used more than seven decades after independence.

Globally, English is used as a second language because of the huge economical and educational benefits it provides. Of course, it also serves as a lingua franca around the world.

Now, it’s definitely possible that some French-speaking African countries could switch to English sooner or later, especially in countries where another language already fulfils the role of a lingua franca.

For instance, in Algeria and Tunisia, where Arabic already serves as a lingua franca, discussions about a possible transition to English are already under way. In Senegal, French is gradually being replaced by Wolof. In Morocco and Madagascar, English is becoming more popular among younger people than French.

In Vietnam and Cambodia, French has been in decline for decades. The main reason is again because another language (Vietnamese, Khmer) is used as a lingua franca for the whole country. In Laos, a decline has also been observed, but French is surprisingly still present to some degree up to the present time.

After heavily browsing the web, one of the main reason that comes out about why the transition hasn’t already occurred is the huge cost associated with it. Training of new teachers in schools , new textbooks, replacing administrative paperwork, etc. So it’s just too costly to do it currently for most countries.

Another reason is that France would vehemently oppose any transition to English. That can be seen in Rwanda where there’s a controversy about why the French government supported the pro-Hutu faction in Rwanda in the 1990s even during the genocide. As can be read in the link, the French government feared the pro-Tutsis rebels, trained in English-speaking Uganda, would change the official language from French to English, which they actually did.

Also, the local elite is used to speak French in those countries, often having done their education in France. Breaking habits is hard (I hope I don’t need to prove that).

In summary:

The transition (from French to another language, especially English) could occur in some countries where another language already serves as a lingua franca. For now, it hasn’t because:

  1. the cost to switch is huge
  2. France would vehemently oppose it
  3. the local elites are used to French

So yes, French is growing as a second language in Africa, but the growth could be less than currently expected if some countries decide to transition to English, a transition that could definitely be possible in some of the French-speaking African countries.

Thanks for reading !


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