The UK’s soft power in the Anglosphere dominates Macron and the EU

Last week the French were promoting themselves again but it’s a lost cause

Montage © Facts4EU.Org 2024

Facts4EU.Org compares Macron’s claims to the reality of English western dominance

Last week there were some stories in the international media about France’s influence globally. As our nearest neighbour there has always been rivalry between our two countries.

This Sunday we unravel this a little and compare France’s boasts to the full reality of the dominance of the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world.

Brexit Facts4EU.Org Summary

English versus French

First (native) language
Second language
English : 380m
English : 1.08bn
English : 1.46bn  
French : 81m
French : 229m
French : 310m  

[Sources: See below.]

En bref, English is nearly five times more popular across the globe than French.

A la recherche du temps perdu

The French language is something important for the French, whereas the English language is something very rarely mentioned in the United Kingdom. It is simply taken for granted as the ‘lingua franca’ in the western world.

Put simply, British influence across the globe for generations together with the natural simplicity of the language has made English the No.1 language for billions of people. Conversely the French have battled for decades to defend ‘la francophonie’ in international institutions such as the EU and the UN, with little success.

© BA - click to enlarge

Spoken well, (something few of us Brits ever achieve), French is an elegant language. However it can be a little cumbersome. According to a Facts4EU source in Whitehall who was intimately involved in the negotiations over the UK-France Concorde contract, the French version was double the length of the British one, despite saying the same thing.

Language is fluid and it evolves over time – but less so in France

France still has something called L’Académie Française - an institution which has been going since 1635. The Académie acts as an official authority on the language and even publishes an official dictionary of which words and expressions can and cannot be used.

When words like “le shopping” and “le parking” started appearing in French advertisements the censure from L’Académie Française was severe. These days they seem to have given up the fight.

In addition to L’Académie, there is also something called ‘Observatoire démographique et statistique de l’espace francophone (ODSEF)’ which keeps tabs on the numbers of people speaking French and their locations.

English rules

English is the most spoken language in the world, primarily due to the historical global influence of the British Empire and the United States. In terms of it being a native language it ranks third, after Mandarin and Spanish. It is however the most widely learned second language in the world, with more second-language speakers than native speakers.

From a national status point of view English is either the official language or one of the official languages in 59 sovereign states. In some other countries it is the sole or dominant language without being defined as such in law, e.g. in the UK and the USA.

It is a co-official language of the United Nations, the European Union, and many other international and regional organisations. It has also become the de facto language of diplomacy, science, international trade, tourism, aviation, entertainment and the internet.

What the French government says about the French language

© French Diplomatic Service - click to enlarge

Below are the figures issued by the French Diplomatic Service. We advise caution when quoting these, however. (See ‘Observations’ below.)

  • 5th most widely spoken language in the world
  • Official language of 32 States and governments
  • 321 million speakers
  • 61.8% of which live in Africa (North Africa, Near East and Sub-Saharan Africa)
  • 132 million learners of and in French
  • 4th most used language on the internet


When we delved into the detail of the French government’s figures we found the French Diplomatic Service believe the UK is the eighth country in terms of the number of people speaking French. Apparently 11.3 million of us speak it.

Given that the British are hardly known for their foreign language skills, this would seem to be an optimistic number. Members of the Facts4EU.Org team read the French press regularly but we wonder how many readers would confidently open a copy of a French newspaper to find out what is going on in the world.

We must add that the British most certainly have appropriated various French expressions into English. Examples include ‘laissez faire’, ‘haute cuisine’, ‘cul de sac’, ‘cliché’, and ‘déjà vu’. Merci, la belle France!

As it’s Sunday this has been a light-hearted look at French announcements last week. We hope our French readers will forgive us. As a gesture to the ‘entente cordiale’, below we present one of our Sunday music videos for readers’ entertainment. We avoided the obvious choices such as Edith Piaf, Sacha Distel, and Charles Aznavour, and instead give you the wonderful Charles Trenet with his classic ‘Boum’.

We must get reports like this out there

Reports like the one above take far longer to research, write and produce than many people realise. If they were easy, readers would see other organisations also producing these daily. However, there’s little point in the Facts4EU.Org team working long hours, seven days-a-week, if we lack the resources to promote them effectively – to the public, to MPs, and to the media. This is where you come in, dear reader.

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[Sources : French Diplomatic Service | L’Académie Française | L’Observatoire démographique et statistique de l’espace francophone (ODSEF) | CIA World Factbook ] Politicians and journalists can contact us for details, as ever.

Brexit Facts4EU.Org, Sun 24 Mar 2024

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