Every month this year, we will be turning our focus towards one of the core languages we love to teach – looking at the language’s potential for business, considering a few facts and figures to put its global prospects in context, plus sharing some tips to help you get started. This month we take a look at French, the language of one of our nearest European neighbours (we even have a rail connection via Eurostar!).
France has a population of 65 million people, very similar to the UK, and like the English language, French is spoken far beyond the borders of France. Over 260 million people around the world speak French – it is spoken by people in all six inhabited continents in at least 50 countries. With the possibility of encountering French in life and in business all around the world, it seems a smart choice of language to learn for professional success.
Learning French: Business Prospects and Opportunities
Being one of our nearest neighbours, France as a country is an attractive centre for business – it can be reached by rail or a short flight, the UK is within an hour of France’s time zone, and French is the most popular language to study in UK schools and universities. French is also an official language of the United Nations (alongside five others) and France has the 7th largest economy in the world.
Brexit is an ongoing challenge but also an opportunity for the UK and Europe, so learning another European language to help cement a strong future with our European neighbours seems a wise investment – especially since France is one of the UK’s major trading partners. Add in the significance of major European countries such as France and Germany on the global stage, plus the UK’s influential role in global politics, and it makes sense to rate the language of a nearby ally so highly.
French is also widely spoken across Europe, including in Switzerland and Luxembourg. It is more than just a European language, however. Much like Spanish, French has reached the furthest corners of the world, including Canada, many African countries (such as Senegal, Rwanda and Mali) and Pacific Islands such as Vanuatu.
On top of all these excellent reasons to consider learning French, it is useful to note that France is the most popular tourist destination in the world. People are drawn by more than the Eiffel Tower, stunning as it is – France is a country of renowned museums, celebrated artists and intricate history, from the decadent to the destructive. Fold in the French love for food and wine, as well as France’s expansive countryside, and you are presented with a heady cocktail of opportunities.
The British Council has long rated French as one of the most important languages for UK businesses, especially when we live in a country with declining language skills. With France’s ties to global trade, diplomacy, cuisine, culture and tourism, the case for learning French for business is as solid as ever.
Did You Know? A Few Facts about French
French may be top of your business’s language-learning list because of a myriad of potential prospects in France – ranging from manufacturing and agriculture to energy and hospitality – but the language may also provide the key to connecting with numerous countries in Africa and beyond. Whatever the reason (and however near or far you are from the French-speaking location you have in mind), here are some useful facts to know about French.
- French is the main language of France, but it is not the only language of significance. Occitan is another language spoken by many in the south of France. Interesting fact: Occitan was banned in France at the turn of the 20th century, but it is now accepted and experiencing a gentle rise in popularity, with around three million speakers.
- French is an official language in 29 countries! We have mentioned a few likely candidates already in this article (such as Canada and Rwanda), but it is also an official language in other African countries (including Chad, Niger and Cameroon), as well as the Caribbean island nations Saint Lucia and Dominica.
- One of the reasons that French is so widely spoken around the world is as a result of French colonialism. The language has reached every inhabited continent in the world, and French colonial architecture still exists in many places where the language has faded (for example, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia).
- French is a romance language, which means that if you make good progress with French you also have a strong chance of picking up Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian (which are also romance languages). English plus a romance language such as French could be your passport to global success – especially post-pandemic.
Click here for more facts and figures about French language and culture.
Tips to Help You Get Started
Learning any new language can feel like a challenge, but hopefully French seems like an achievable target: it is a European language, it uses the Latin alphabet and the English language has more than its fair share of words of French origin. Here are a few tips to help you develop your French language skills.
- Learning a language is a big commitment, so keep your motivation for learning at the front of your mind. If you are learning to increase your opportunities at work or to add an extra in-demand skill to your CV, then remembering this when the going gets tough will help to focus you on your overall goal. And if you are learning for the fun of it (or for a future move to a French-speaking country), perhaps take a short hop over (or under, by Eurostar!) the English Channel to practise your French in Paris!
- French sounds rather different to English and pronunciation is certainly important, but intonation can make all the difference (and may make up for some early pronunciation errors). For example, the last syllable of a sentence is always stressed – if it is a question, it is an ascending tone, while for statements it is a descending tone. To hear this musicality in play, listen to the French language in action – check out famous films by directors including Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie), François Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and Jean Cocteau (La Belle et la Bête). You can also find plenty of French films on streaming services such as Netflix, so explore away!
- Speaking is just as important as listening, so look for opportunities to say the words aloud – whether it is practising at home or, ideally, in conversation with another language learner. If you are learning a language with colleagues then you have a great opportunity to practise in a work context, using the terms that will be most useful in a work environment, but a language course may also help – or simply ask around to see if you know someone who is looking to brush up their French skills!
If you would like to find out more about learning French to help you grow your business around the world, from France and Rwanda to Canada and Madagascar, contact us today. We can work with you to develop a bespoke language-learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your global colleagues, whether virtually or in person. All our courses can be taught live online.