March is the month of “La Francophonie”. It is an opportunity for all the countries that share the French language, including Canada, France and Haiti, to celebrate this great family.
We belong to one of the largest linguistic communities in the world. Today, French is spoken by more than 274 million people on all continents. This number is expected to reach 700 million by 2050. French is the second most learned foreign language in the world, after English.
French is a great language of communication. It is the fourth most common language used on the internet. Four international radio stations and six international television stations broadcast in French, reaching 243 million households.
French continues to play a central role in international relations. It is an official language of the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, the World Trade Organization and the Olympic Games. In the Western Hemisphere, it has an official status with the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, and several other regional organizations.
Speaking French is an asset in the business world, where it is the 3rd most spoken language, after English and Chinese. Francophone countries account for 16% of world GDP, and the trade among them accounts for 20 percent of world trade. French proficiency opens up opportunities in many promising sectors, such as aeronautics, automotive, hotel and catering, mass retail, fashion and wine.
Finally, French is a great language of culture. It has the second largest number of Nobel Prize winners in literature awarded worldwide. The network of Francophone universities has 817 institutions. The French Academy itself reflects this universality: today it has eminent international members, recently including the American Julien Green, and currently, the Canadian of Haitian origin Dany Laferrière.
However, la Francophonie is more than a language. It is also the basis for universal values, as underlined by the International Organization of la Francophonie, headed today Michaëlle Jean, a Canadian born in Haiti. Belonging to La Francophonie means affirming our commitment to democracy, human rights, cultural and linguistic diversity, and a dialogue among cultures. As founding members of the United Nations, our three countries are also deeply committed to international cooperation in the service of peace and sustainable development.
Here in Florida, everyone is aware of the importance of the Spanish language. The significance of Creole is also well known. However, not everyone is as aware of the pervasiveness of the French language. This month of la Francophonie was the occasion for our three consulates to lead or support a series of activities to help celebrate the dynamism of the French-speaking community.
The French-speaking community is very active in Florida, primarily thanks to the numerous permanent residents of Haiti, France and Canada. Many associations, business networks and francophone media cover our communities. The language and values of La Francophonie are also shared by frequent visitors, “snowbirds” from Quebec, French tourists or parents of Haitians-Americans. We also want to recognize our friends from other francophone national communities, because the French language belongs to all of us! Today, 114,000 Floridians speak French at home.
The vitality of French in the Sunshine State is also evident in the education sector. Aware of the advantages of multilingualism, many families choose French for their children at an early age, especially in bilingual primary and secondary schools. We are proud of the schoolchildren who participated in our French-language contest called “Tell Me Ten Words.”
Many organizations in Florida offer out-of-school courses for both children and adults. In March, for example, in support of the French Heritage Language Program, which allows Haitian children to learn French here in Miami, an online auction was launched by the Pan American Art Project for the benefit of The Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance. The Floridian universities also play an important role in the teaching of the French language. Florida International University welcomed us a few days ago to discuss the evolution of the French language in the digital space. Finally, more than 900 students from all over Florida came to Orlando for the 65th Congress of French Culture in Florida, where they celebrated the French language through plays and competitions of poetry and public speaking .
So, when will you start learning French?
Susan Harper is consul general of Canada; Gandy Thomas is consul general of Haiti; Clément Leclerc is consul general of France.