French is an official language in 29 countries across five different continents, most of which are members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), the community of 84 countries which share the official use or teaching of French. It is spoken as a first language (in descending order of the number of speakers) in France, Canadian provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick as well as other Francophone regions, Belgium (Wallonia and Brussels), western Switzerland (cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Vaud, Valais), Monaco, parts of the United States (Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont), and by various communities elsewhere. In 2015, approximately 40% of the francophone population (including L2 and partial speakers) lived in Europe, 35% in sub-Saharan Africa, 15% in North Africa and the Middle East, 8% in the Americas, and 1% in Asia and Oceania. French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union, Of Europeans who speak other languages natively, approximately one-fifth are able to speak French as a second language. French is the second most taught foreign language in the EU. French is also the 18th most natively spoken language in the world, and is the second most studied language worldwide (with about 120 million current learners).
As a result of French and Belgian colonialism from the 16th century onward, French was introduced to new territories in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Most second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, in particular Gabon, Algeria, Mauritius, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
French is estimated to have about 76 million native speakers, and another 77 to 110 million secondary speakers who speak it as a second language to varying degrees of proficiency, mainly in Africa. According to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), approximately 274 million people worldwide are "able to speak the language", without specifying the criteria for this estimation or whom it encompasses. According to a demographic projection led by the Université Laval and the Réseau Démographie de l'Agence universitaire de la francophonie, the total number of French speakers will reach approximately 500 million in 2025 and 650 million by 2050. OIF estimates 700 million by 2050, 80% of whom will be in Africa.
French has a long history as an international language of literature and scientific standards and is a primary or second language of many international organisations including the United Nations, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked French the third most useful language for business, after English and Standard Mandarin Chinese.
Spoken by 12% of the European Union's population, French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the EU after German, English and Italian; it is also the third-most widely known language of the Union after English and German (33% of the EU population report knowing how to speak English, 22% of Europeans understand German, 20% French).
Under the Constitution of France, French has been the official language of the Republic since 1992 (although the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts made it mandatory for legal documents in 1539). France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education except in specific cases (though these dispositions are often ignored) and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words.
In Belgium, French is the official language of Wallonia (excluding a part of the East Cantons, which are German-speaking) and one of the two official languages—along with Dutch—of the Brussels-Capital Region, where it is spoken by the majority of the population often as their primary language.