Will French be the new lingua franca of the future?
Recently, I have heard in the news that French President Emmanuel Macron believes that French will be the most spoken language in the world in the future.
Do you think this will happen? I can see why French will be spoken more in Africa, due to many African countries being former French colonies. What do you think?
French isn't going to be the most spoken language in the world. First of all, French is far behind right now (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers).
While areas of Francophone Africa are growing rapidly, note that many residents don't speak French at all; if they do, it's generally as a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language. Now, French in those countries is very important for government, education, and business, so we would expect French literacy in these countries to increase as their economies develop. But if you've looked at population trends around the world, population growth slows when the economy develops. So you would expect French literacy to increase at the same time their population growth slows. This has happened in some of the many Anglophone countries of Africa!
Note that the Indian subcontinent, home to over 1.7 billion people, is Anglophone in much the same way as large sections of Africa is Francophone: many of the local residents don't actually speak that language, but anyone who's educated can use it.
Even if the population of Francophone countries someday could surpass the population of Anglophone countries, the number of English speakers will remain far ahead of the number of French speakers, counting people who speak a language as a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. language. English is the dominant language of the internet, it's the language of science, it's the language of aviation, and many other global sectors. If businessmen from Saudi Arabia and Japan have a meeting in Greece, they'll talk to each other in English.
Because of this, current educational systems around the world try and teach their students English. If you go to Brazil, China, Poland, Egypt, France, and (yes!) Francophone Africa, English is a part of the curriculum. They may not be good at teaching it (and in Africa they may not be able to have teachers in all the schools), but they want their children to speak it.
This is a snowball effect in action. As more people globally understand English, especially people in the upper & middle classes, the more English becomes a "must know" language, which leads to more people studying English. Even if the US and Britain would go into sharp economic decline, it wouldn't stop this process. Scientists around the world who communicate in English aren't going to suddenly decide to stop doing science for months in order to learn French because there are some population shifts in Africa. They will continue to use English, which means the next generation of scientists is going to learn English to communicate with them. The same is true for any other industry.
Perhaps the most relevant note is this: right now English has only the 3rd most speakers in the world as a first language. It's behind Chinese and Spanish. That doesn't stop it from being the most studied language in the world. Why would that change if it fell to 4th?
In the future English is going to be even more important than today. It won't be long before it passes Chinese as the most spoken language in the world. Behind English there will be other important languages, mostly restricted to a certain region, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Arabic. German, Russian, and Hindi might be in that group as well. While you might argue French will be the most spoken of these second-level languages, it's not going to pass English for first.
On a Wikipedia list of contries with French speakers India and China do not show up on the list. Wikipedia gives 125,000,000 English speakers in India and 10,000,000 in China with an estimated 300,000,000 English students in China, more that the current world total for French.
My guess is it might become a lingua-franca for Africa.
French has been and is used as a lingua franca in some areas, but I find it very hard to believe it'd ever be the most spoken language in the world. If a Romance language is going to become a global lingua franca, Spanish is probably much more likely (and that's just if it'll even be a Romance language at all). The former French colony countries don't have the population that former Spanish ones and Spanish-influenced areas do. If you look at Africa, it's a rich mix of languages, with far more varied influences than just former French control. South, East, and parts of North Africa have a different experience, and Africa has many, many vibrant languages of its own.
The fundamental question comes down to this. Why would French be picked up at a higher rate than it is now? What would be the catalyst?
I agree with this. There's also the problem of its difficulty, Spanish is definitely easier in its pronunciation hence it could enjoy more popularity among other romance languages.
French won't lose its influence, many regard it as a language of high culture so it still would be widely learnt but the Hispanic World is bigger and closer to certain important countries like U.S., China and Brazil, all America is within its sphere of influence.
One might argue that French was a lingua franca at one time (and perhaps it still is in some parts of Africa) but as for French becoming a world wide lingua franca, I think Macron was being more than a bit optimistic/hyperbolic on that point. But hey, he's President of France, so what else can he say on that point?
Macron may not be that far off in his assessment. The French are fairly aggressive in promoting their language and in teaching foreigners how to communicate in it. The freely available resources to learn French on the internet are vast and easily available. I have downloaded several French courses in their entirety (English to French) including audio lessons, books and supplemental material with just a few mouse clicks! Even before the internet the French were promoting their language through L'Alliance française. Of course French literature is very rich and begs to be read in its original language and many people are attracted to their culture and food as well. The opportunities to read, write and even speak in French are almost everywhere. French is very similar to English which is the most widely spoken language already as well as to Spanish and Portuguese which are also widely spoken. For these people learning French as a second or even third language is not as daunting as for example learning Vietnamese or Hebrew or even Russian or Chinese. Also these folks are learning French as well. For a non-English speaker who is having trouble learning English, learning French instead might be a viable option. In that case it may even help them understand English. For a monolingual English speaker learning French will absolutely improve their understanding of English grammar! Even if only a portion of English, Spanish and Portuguese speakers learn French as a second language, along with all those who already speak it and are learning it in their home countries, then French might well become the most spoken language in the future.