Is French on the decline

Informer   Sun Dec 07, 2008 10:54 am GMT
Is French on the decline?

This is the question that motivated us to write The Story of French in the first place. With the mind-blowing spread of English across the planet, a lot of people assume French is being wiped out. Is it?

Growth in number of native speakers

When we began researching The Story of French, there were 175 million French speakers in the world. The number had tripled in the previous 60 years. Sounds impressive, but all that means is that French speakers increased at the same pace as the world population increased.

But French is still growing along with the world population. The Organization internationale de la francophonie recently increased their official number of French speakers to 200 million. That puts French in 8th position in the ranking of world languages.

Status as an international language

Although French has roughly the same number of speakers as Portuguese, French remains, indisputably, the world’s second international language (after English). That’s became it is second only to English for number of countries where it is an official language (33, compared to 45 for English), for number of people who study it (100 million), for number of countries where it’s taught (every country in the world), for number of teachers (2 million) and because it is still used widely in international institutions and in business.

There is lots of evidence that French is slipping as an international language. For example, the European Union is using English more and more. But French has a long way to slip before it becomes irrelevant, if it ever really does.

Comparison with other world languages

Of course, when you look at the increase in use of English across the planet and the growing influence of Chinese, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that French will lose out and gradually disappear. And a lot of people are jumping to that conclusion.

All I can say is that it’s hard for anyone to predict.

We took a close look at the picture in Senegal, a former French colony considered the cultural capital of West Africa. At the time, George W. Bush was sort of courting Senegalese president Wade to try to boost US influence in a part of the world where it doesn’t have much clout. The obvious way to do that is to push English. But most people we talked to thought the plan was pretty futile. As one university professor explained, since French is the language of Senegal’s education system, Senegalese can only learn English if they already speak French.

As I learned at a recent language conference, the number of native English speakers is increasing only as fast as the number of native French speakers – and that’s not too fast. The real powerhouse languages today are Chinese and Arabic.

Rwanda Ditches French

In the corridors of the Francophonie Summit last weekend in Quebec City, there was surprisingly little discussion of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s decision to ban French from the central African country’s education system. Most of the journalists I met there were talking either about French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s declaration of non-support of Quebec’s separation movement, or the fact that they weren’t getting any information about what was happening in the closed - door discussions of the Summit.

Getting information really was a problem - not to mention getting around. There were some 3000 police officers on the site; security was intense and traffic was constantly blocked by motorcades as the dozens of heads of states moved about the city.

Inside the press center at the Hilton, brief announcements came out occasionally, and heads of state and other important figures came into the media center to give interviews, but no one really knew what was being discussed, or who said what about a particular issue. It was strange to see 700 or 800 hundred journalists there just waiting around for news that rarely came. Which tended to confirm the reputation the Francophonie has of not communicating its goals very well.

Anyway…Like Sarkozy’s slap in the face to Quebec’s separatist movement, Rwanda’s slap in the face to French was significant because of it’s timing, not so much because it had much to do with the essence of the Francophonie Summit.

And Rwanda’s decision was not so much a slap in the face to French, as it was to the French. And not without reason, given suspicion about France’s role in fomenting the Rwandan genocide.

The thing is, there’s a big difference in saying you will ban French as a language of education, and actually revamping an entire education system — which is what Kagame’s declaration amounts to. In other words, it’s not very likely to work. Like most (but not all) former French and Belgian colonies, Rwanda held on to French as the language of its school system because it couldn’t really afford to create another education system with a new language, which would mean training new teachers from scratch. French is the language of social promotion in Rwanda, like it is in Senegal. The elite speaks French. And those who want to join the elite by getting an education, learn French.

Not only will Kagame have to overcome the resistance of the elite of his own country. He will have to change a mentality that’s been in place since Rwanda became a Belgian colony almost a century ago, in 1925 (it was a German colony starting in 1899): that French is the way to a better life. What we saw researching Story of French in Senegal — which George Bush was courting at the time to try to get a foot in West Africa — was that while learning English sounded good to everyone, in a country where the elite spoke French, the advantages of speaking English were pretty remote.

Algeria tried very hard to get rid of French as its language of instruction and government and ended up provoking a civil war that cost the lives of some 200,000 Algerians. You’ve got to wonder what kind of price Rwandans are going to pay to send a message to France. If Kagame sticks it out, the price will probably be huge.

Why care about the Francophonie?

It’ surprising so few do care the Francophonie, or the Summit in Quebec City October 17-19. The Summit will be the biggest international forum ever held on Canadian soil, with some 3000 delegates attending from 55 member countries. There will be 34 heads of state there, plus the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. French President Nicholas Sarkozy will be flying in from a European Union meeting to attend.

What does the Francophonie do?

Almost since it’s creation in 1970, the Francophonie has been considered a sort poor cousin of the Commonwealth. To be fair, the organization did have some difficulty getting off the ground and finding its purpose. And many of its member countries (former French colonies in African and Asia) are poor. But today, the Commonwealth and the Francophonie are pretty comparable organizations, with similar budgets and goals – the main difference is that in the 1990s, the Francophonie added protection of French language to its mandate. The political vision of the two organizations is also different: both work for humanitarian aid and development, but the Commonwealth puts more stress on “good governance” as a condition for aid than the Francophonie does.

Contrary to what most commentators have written, the Francophonie has achieved some pretty impressive goals. It created TV5, today the third biggest the television network in the world after CNN and MTV, with 50 million regular viewers in 201 countries. The Francophonie’s Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie networks almost 700 universities and French faculties in 81 countries. It has 63 offices in the world, 12 research institutes and 29 “electronic campuses”. When we were researching The Story of French in 2004, we visited one of them in Dakar – it was “dernier cri” (cutting edge). Recent efforts to boost the use of French in international institutions have also born fruit: some 12 000 European Union employees – plus several hundred politicians, journalists and even some heads of state – have signed up for French courses since 2002. The Francophonie’s Secretary General, former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf, has also slimmed down the organization since 2005, tightening membership criteria and cutting programmes by 30%.

Quebec’s role?

Although Quebec is not a state, it does sit as an independent member alongside other states. Most importantly, Quebec is seen as a leader among francophonie countries. While researching The Story of French we saw to what extent Quebec is seen a model throughout the Francophonie (in the large sense, the 200 million French speakers in the world), especially where language protection measures are concerned. Even France looks to Quebec for ideas on protecting French. One of the big questions about Quebec’s participation is, given its leadership role, why doesn’t it contribute more financially (at the moment, 21 million dollars)? France has always kept a low profile at Francophonie Summits, but it picks up something like 80% of 310 million dollar bill.

What purpose do summits serve?

In a recent interview in La Presse, Quebec Premier Jean Charest said he wanted to “inject some dynamism” into the Francophonie. At the Summit, Charest will be pushing an environmental agenda. Charest also said he wants to develop the North-South relations in the Francophonie as part of discussions on climate change. In fact, that is the kind of stuff that happens at these meetings: countries form (and un-form) blocs around major international issues. For example, Canada’s position on the War in Iraq was heavily influenced by discussions at the Francophonie Summit in Beirut in October 2002.

And speaking of North-South relations, it’s in these types of international forums that poor countries make their importance felt. The Francophonie is very conscious that the main growth of French over the next decades will be in Africa, so it is keen on developing and consolidating relationships with French-speaking African countries.

Strangely, the French language has never been a hot topic of discussion at the yearly summits and this year, members will only be talking about protecting French on the last day. The main project on the agenda is to promote the use of French in international forums.
This Summit, the Francophonie’s 12th, will be the first where the organization will lay out its expectations about protecting French to member countries, particularly about the role of French in member countries’ education systems.

© The World in French 2008 - All Rights Reserved
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Informer   Sun Dec 07, 2008 11:05 am GMT
French language alive and well
Oct. 10, 2006. 01:00 AM

In a recent survey on attitudes toward bilingualism, carried out by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, 72 per cent of Canadians said bilingualism was important, a sharp increase from 56 per cent years ago. What's more, 84 per cent of Canadians said they believed that speaking French would help them get a good job.
The link between employability and bilingualism is not a Canadian phenomenon. Bilingualism is a growing trend the world over. What Canadians probably don't realize is that internationally, French is doing much better than is widely believed — even by the French themselves.
It would be ridiculous to pretend that French is competing with English on the international stage. Yet during the two years we spent researching our book, The Story of French, we had some surprises. Travelling to some 15 countries, what we saw convinced us that French is not only doing better than most people think, it is a global language, the world's other global language.

It's simply false to pretend that French is on the decline. The number of French-speakers in the world has tripled in the last 50 years to 175 million. French is the world's 9th language for number of speakers, but it's still the world's second international language after English, and the only other language taught in all countries of the world.
French far outweighs Spanish, Arabic or even Chinese for its number of students: 100 million. The International Federation of Teachers of French has 80,000 members, a small proportion of the world's 2 million teachers of French — 10,000 of whom are in the United States.
French is second only to English for the number of countries where it is an official language — 33 compared to 45 — and for the number of international institutions where it is used, including the UN, the EU, the International Monetary Fund, the International Red Cross Committee, Interpol and the International Labour Organization.
At last month's Summit of Francophonie — often described as a French-language Commonwealth — only half of the organization's 53 members are former French colonies. Ten members of the Francophonie are European, and another 11 European entities have observer status (not all members are countries).

Outside of the Francophonie, Algeria has 15 million French-speakers, while 15 per cent of the population of Israel is francophone (mostly Jews from North Africa and France). With 1.5 million native speakers, French ranks as the 4th important native language of the United States.
More importantly, French-speaking networks are rapidly developing across the planet, not in competition with English, but parallel to it.
Under the auspices of the Agence universitaire francophone, (itself under the umbrella of the Francophonie), some 525 French-language universities have created official links. The agency gives 2,000 scholarships per year to encourage academic research in French. In a surprising development, many francophone networks now bypass France almost completely. When Morocco wanted to create an MBA program in the 1980s, it turned to Sherbrooke University in Quebec, where the first such program in French was created.

The same is happening in the business world. When Franco-Ontarian businessman Paul Desmarais (of Power Corporation fame) wanted to expand his empire in Europe, he turned to Belgian business tycoon Albert Frère. In recent years, French businesses have been outsourcing to countries where there is less costly French-speaking labour, like Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal.

If Canadians think French is becoming passé in the business world, they should think again. The world's second engineering company is SNC-Lavalin of Montreal. The world's main nuclear power, for civil energy, is France. North America's biggest printer is Quebecor. The world's second distributor, after Wal-Mart, is French Carrefour. The world's second aviation company is Airbus, and Montreal is one of the world's three most important centres for aviation.

French cinema has more viewers abroad than even at home. Quebec films have been regularly beating Hollywood productions at box offices in the last few years. Francophone music and literary festivals are multiplying across the planet. Francophone literature, particularly from Africa and the Caribbean, is being used more and more in French departments across the U.S., as the backbone for black studies ... in French.

The planetary exchange in French is impressive, and we were surprised by the high status both Canada and Quebec enjoy in this system. In Canada, Quebec is often derided for its language protection measures and Law 101 is considered oppressive, at best. But in the rest of the French-speaking world, Quebec is heralded as a model to follow in language protection.
Even the French look to Quebec for ideas on how to keep French vocabulary contemporary without systematically resorting to English. The Quebec bank of terminology, which contains references to 1 million terms in French, gets 50 million hits per year, mostly from Europe, a striking success when you compare that to the 2 million that the French Academy receives.

One of the most surprising threats to French today is, in fact, coming from the French, most of whom seem to think their language is irremediably on the decline.
Canadians seem to know better.
A more original name   Sun Dec 07, 2008 11:57 am GMT
Most original name   Sun Dec 07, 2008 12:18 pm GMT
Visitor   Sun Dec 07, 2008 12:24 pm GMT
French, German, and Farsi are Popular in Bangladesh

French and German have become very popular for economic reasons in our country. Learning these languages help us to increase our possibility to get a UN job. Learning French is also helpful for getting immigration to Canada. Also there are good facilities to learn these languages in Dhaka University, Alliance Francaise, and Goethe Institute. Recently, the English Institute of North South University has introduced French course. On the other hand during the Muslim reign Farsi was the language of the Royal administration and law court in Bangladesh. At present, a student can attend Farsi course for one semester by just paying tk. 250 in Iran Cultural Center but there are not many students who are interested to learn Farsi, French, and German. On the other hand, hundreds of students each year appear for TOEFL and IELTS exams in English language.
Visitor   Sun Dec 07, 2008 12:42 pm GMT
Italy, Chule, Thailand, and Latvia are the latest countries to join La Francophonie with Observer status. Even though Chile is not yet on the table, it's map is shaded light blue.
Visitor   Sun Dec 07, 2008 12:43 pm GMT
Italy, Chile, Thailand, and Latvia are the latest countries to join La Francophonie with Observer status. Even though Chile is not yet on the table, it's map is shaded light blue.
Informer   Sun Dec 07, 2008 12:50 pm GMT
claverackle   Sun Dec 07, 2008 5:08 pm GMT
<<Even though Chile is not yet on the table, it's map is shaded light blue.

Shouldn't the US be shaded light blue, since Louisana is a "observant" member?
Paris   Sun Dec 07, 2008 5:08 pm GMT
The Moon has joined the Francophonie.
Informer   Mon Dec 08, 2008 8:03 am GMT
French language rising?
Roman 6/15/2007 11:51:29 AM

Despite the best efforts of the French government, French language has long been on the decline in terms of diplomatic and commercial usage within Europe and even more so worldwide. This decline will surely continue for a while, perhaps many decades, but I see it reversing eventually. Why? The reason is Africa. Numerous African countries have French as their official language, as it provides them with a lingua franca (pun not intended) for communication between various component ethnic groups. Currently, Africa is not very important geo-strategically, nor does it have any significant economic weight, so its usage of French does not really help the French language regain its status. As Africa develops in the future, however, its large population will give it, and therefore French, increased weight in international political and business circles again.
Visitor   Mon Dec 08, 2008 8:59 am GMT
The Twelve Most Useful Second Languages for English Speakers

When the world talks about science, culture, economy or politics, it speaks English. English speakers don’t really need a second language at all. So, what’s the use of a second language when the first one is enough? English speakers can look for the luxury items: cultural and linguistic enrichment. In this article, I will evaluate the world’s major languages for their usefulness to English speakers, according to three different criteria:

1. Demographics: Opportunity to use the language actively: the number of native and second language speakers, and the chances of communicating with them in this language: use as a lingua franca. It’s not simply a matter of numbers. Mandarin is by far the most spoken language but it is concentrated in one country, China, and that reduces the impact. In the case of Hindi, educated speakers will very likely also speak English, so the opportunity to speak to people in Hindi is greatly reduced.

2. Personal Impact: This subjective criterion looks at the impact on the learner. How does this language study increase the learner’s own sophistication regarding languages, whether English or another, third language? How does this language make the learner a more culturally literate person?

3. Business factors: How will this language open new business and commercial opportunities?

Criterion I. Demographics:
I begin with demographics because this is the criterion that first comes to mind in such a discussion. However, this factor only weighs 40 percent in the ratings, and certain entries here, such as Italian, Swahili and Turkish, will only become understandable when one sees the tables that follow.

1. Spanish: Approx. 350 million natives speakers, with many second language speakers in the Americas, North Africa and elsewhere. It is the official language of about 20 countries. (6 points). It is an important lingua franca in the Western Hemisphere and the Mediterranean, (3 points). (Total: 9 points).

2. French: Despite a relatively small native language base of 130 million, French has a major presence internationally, with a large second language population all over the world and official language status in over 25 countries. It is the working language of many international organizations (4 points). It is also the most recognized lingua franca, after English. (4 points). (Total: 8 points).

3. Arabic: Arabic speakers are hard to quantify. Modern Standard Arabic is a second dialect for 250 million people worldwide, but it is quite difference from the spoken Arabic in each of the 20 countries where it is official. It is an official language of the United Nations and of many international organizations. It is also the language of Islam. (4.5 points). Arabic is a major lingua franca. (2 points). (Total: 6.5 points).

4. Russian: Estimates are as high as 185 million for the native speaking population, and it is the second language in all the nations of the former Soviet Union (3 points). Russia spent much of the Twentieth Century securing the position of its language as the lingua franca in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and it continues to serve in that capacity, in a greatly diminished way. (2 points). (Total: 5 points).

5. Mandarin: It’s the native language of 875 million people, however, they are concentrated in one country, China. It is a second language for the rest of China, Taiwan, and for Chinese communities world-wide. It has little currency beyond its ethnic boundaries and serves as lingua franca only in this context. (Total: 3 points).

6. German: It has approx. 120 million native speakers and many second language speakers throughout Europe. (2 points). It has had moderate success re-establishing itself as the lingua franca of Central Europe, after the disastrous history of the past century, however, this role has been taken up in the meantime by Russian and English (1 point). (Total: 3 points).

7. Hindustani: It includes Urdu at one end and Hindi at the other, with approx. 185 million native speakers in India, and 50 million in Pakistan. It is a second language for another 180 million people in these country. It has not had success as a lingua franca outside of this context, as that purpose is served by English. It has also been burdened by the reluctance of the Dravidian speaking people of South India to adopt it. (Total: 2.5 points).

8. Swahili: It is spoken natively by 5 million people and by another 50 million as a second language along the East African coast. It’s the official language of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (1 point). Swahili is the accepted lingua franca in that area, having achieved nearly neutral "tribal" status on a continent where language is politics, but for dealings with the world beyond, it is normally eclipsed by Arabic, English and French (1.5 points). (Total: 2.5 points).

9. Portuguese: Spoken by approx. 190 million people, it is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola and other states. It has not as yet been able to establish itself as a widely used lingua franca. (Total: 2 points).

10. Turkish: It is spoken by 70 million people in Turkey and Cyprus (1 point). It provides an alternative lingua franca throughout the Turkic speaking lands of Central Asia, replacing the more alien Russian (1 point). (Total: 2 points).

11. Japanese: It is spoken by 125 million people in Japan, but has little currency as a second language or a lingua franca. (Total: 1 point).

12. Italian: It is spoken by 60 million people in Italy, it is also the official language of the Vatican. It has little or no significance as a second language or a lingua franca. (1 point).

Criterion II: Personal Impact:
This is the major consideration for the English speaker. It weighs 40 percent in my ratings. How will the learning of this language help one’s understanding of English? How will knowledge of this language open up a portal to other related languages? For the first question, Latin languages hold a distinct advantage, since the prestige, erudite forms of English are all constructed out of a Latin vocabulary. The second question favors languages which are seen as leading languages in a particular linguistic family, wherever it may be located in the world.

1. French: It holds a particular position among Latin languages, in that it has been the major conduit of Latin vocabulary into English for the past one thousand years. Fully 30 percent of English words come from French, (6 points). In cultural terms, the centrality of France to European civilization cannot be overestimated, adding 6 more points. (Total: 12 points)
2. Spanish: This Latin language has enormous influence on the English of the Americas. It has, in turn, been influenced by Arabic and the indigenous languages of pre-Columbian America, giving insight into those languages. (4 points). Spanish culture continues to move into the forefront of Western civilization, ironically, often because of the patronage of its greatest rival, North American English (4 points). (Total: 8 points).

3. Italian: It is the direct descendant of Latin. Thus, a knowledge of Italian gives the learner an exceptionally clear idea of the classical language. By the same token, it is the central romance language, and the study of a second or third romance language is greatly facilitated when the first one learned is Italian. (4 points). Italian also opens up a store of cultural knowledge dating back two thousand years, and representing, with the Roman Empire, the Catholic tradition and the Italian Renaissance, some of the very highest achievements of European civilization. (4 points). (Total: 8 points).

4. German: The linguistic significance for English speakers is great. German provides a clear presentation of the Germanic roots of English, and of the syntactic and grammatical logic of the basic English language. As the major Germanic language it can also be considered a portal to other Germanic languages such as Dutch and Yiddish. (4 points). German culture is also greatly appreciated in Western culture, and its philosophers and artists are key figures. (2 points). (Total: 6 points).

5. Arabic: Although the immediate linguistic impact of the study of Arabic may be hard to discern for the English speaker, the benefits of Arabic in the study of other languages is high. Arabic has greatly influenced other languages of the Middle East and the Muslim world in religion, politics, and social life. Also, the study of the Arabic alphabet opens the way to many other languages, such as Persian, Urdu, Kurdish, etc. (3 points). Arabic culture has had major influence on western civilization but it remains largely unknown in the English speaking world. Knowledge of the language also leads to a greater understanding of Islam. (2 points). (Total: 5 points).

6. Hindustani: In its Hindi form, it is a window on the origins of the larger Indo-European language family with its Sanskrit vocabulary. As Urdu, it gives a significant introduction to many Persian and Arabic terms. Urdu also uses the Persian form of Arabic script, opening the way to wider studies. It is a starting point for the study of other languages of the subcontinent, an area rich in languages. (3 points). India’s rich culture has become more familiar in the English speaking world, in large part due to India’s ability to project its image through English. However, Hindustani language and Hindi culture are also spread through the Bollywood film industry. Pakistan has yet to make its presence felt, but the potential is there. (2 point). (Total: 5 points).

7. Russian: It has not had major influence in the west, given its geographical isolation. It is, however, the major Slavic language, and as such, opens the way to many other Eastern European languages. The Cyrillic alphabet, moreover, is a tremendous asset for reading many of those languages. (2 points). Russian high culture thrived under both tsarism and communism, and it has a significant place in European civilization. (2 points). (Total: 4 points).

8. Portuguese: As a Latin language, Portuguese has a built-in significance for English speakers, even without a direct relationship with English. (3 points). The cultural significance of Brazil, one of the largest nations of the Americas, is continually growing. (1 point). (Total: 4 points).

9. Mandarin: The official Chinese language has had very little influence on English. It has influenced other national languages of the areas, such as Korean and Japanese, and the other "dialects" of China. The Chinese written characters are the same for all of these dialects, and many of these characters are used in Japanese as well. (2 points). Chinese culture, with over two thousand years of history, is quite significant, if not directly applicable to English speaking civilization. (1.5 point). (Total: 3.5 points).

10. Swahili: As the only sub-Saharan language in the group, it serves to introduce the learner to one of the richest linguistic areas of the Earth. It is from the Bantu family of languages, but it incorporates many words from Arabic, Persian, English and French. (1.5 points). It is the language of trade along the East African coast, and as such, is richly descriptive of the culture there. The West African diaspora into the Americas is one of the great mass migrations of the past 500 years, but because of its tragic social dynamics, it has left many millions of people cut off from African culture. Swahili, although it is East African and not West African, can help to fill that gap. (1.5 points). (Total: 3 points).

11. Turkish: Though it has little direct relationship to English, it is the major language of a family of languages that extend eastward to the Chinese interior. It has been influenced by Persian, Kurdish and Arabic, and thus gives some introduction to those languages. (1.5 points). It also represents the culture of the Ottoman traditions, and of modern Turkey and Central Asian Turkistan. (1 point). (Total: 2.5 points).

12. Japanese: This language has had little impact on English and it provides little insight into other languages. It does, however, include many words from Chinese, and uses numerous Chinese characters. (0.5 points). This island nation has been one of the most successful exporters of culture of the Far East during the past century. (1.5 points). (Total: 2 points).

Criterion III. Economic Impact.
Is this language useful in the world of commerce and business? Certainly English is by far the most useful language for business, but a knowledge of other key languages can be a distinct advantage. Twenty percent in the ratings:

1. French: has a long history as a language of commerce and trade. It is extremely important in the developing world, especially Africa. France itself is the world’s sixth largest economy. (4 points).
2. Spanish: the language of commerce and trade in Latin America. Spain is the world’s ninth largest economy and Mexico is its fourteenth largest. (4 points).
3. German: often used for business in Central Europe. Germany is the world’s third largest economy. (3 points).
4. Japanese: can be extremely helpful in dealing with Japanese business. Japan is the world’s second largest economy. (3 points).
5. Mandarin: China has recently become the world’s fourth largest economy, and it continues to grow. (3 points).
6. Russian: Used in a part of the world where English is not well-known. Russia is the eleventh largest economy and is moving up in the rankings. (2 points).
7. Portuguese: Brazil is the tenth largest economy, and continues to grow. (2 points).
8. Arabic: the language of commerce and trade for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. (2 points).
9. Hindustani: is used in the world’s twelfth largest economy, however, English is often the language of business in this area. (2 points).
10. Italian: is the language of commerce in Italy, the world’s seventh largest economy. (1.5 points).
11. Swahili: is the language of business along the east coast of Africa. (1 point).
12. Turkish: is used in the world’s seventeenth largest economy, and to some extent in Central Asia. (1 point).

By these criteria we can come up with a ranking of the 12 most useful languages for an English speaker to learn:

1. French: 24 points
2. Spanish 21 points
3. Arabic 13.5 points
4. German 12 points
5. Russian 11 points
6. Italian 10.5 points
7. Hindustani 9.5 points
8. Mandarin 9.5 points
9. Portuguese 8 points
10. Swahili 6.5 points
11. Japanese 5.5 points
12. Turkish 5.5 points

Some readers may be familiar with George Weber’s well-known piece entitled, Top Languages, which first appeared in the journal Languages Today in 1997. His study rated languages according to their influence in world affairs and world culture. It is interesting, at this point to compare them. Here are Weber’s results:

1. English 37 points
2. French 23
3. Spanish 20
4. Russian 16
5. Arabic 14
6. Chinese 13
7. German 12
8. Japanese 10
9. Portuguese 10
10. Hindi/Urdu 9 pts.

The rankings are similar, with some major differences. My criteria are based on tangible and intangible benefits for the English speaker which are not heavily weighed in Weber’s paradigm. Thus, this subjective focus skewers my results in favor of European languages due to the cultural affinity of English for the languages of Western civilization.

Heritage Languages:
The most striking example of a difference is my ranking of Italian as number 6, whereas it does not figure in Weber’s top ten. My justification for Italian is the phenomenon of the "heritage language", i.e., a language that has usefulness in our understanding and appreciation of the past, rather than in the future. Italian is the vehicle for our understanding of ancient history, the development of Latin languages, Renaissance Art and classical music. It is also the ancestral language of at least 60 million people strategically placed in both North and South America. For these reasons, it is the heritage language par excellence. Other languages that benefit from this heritage factor in my listings are German and Swahili.
D   Mon Dec 08, 2008 9:31 am GMT
The user above me posted a very interesting article. I knew that French was influential, but that article really supported my thoughts. Although, the poster could have just posted a link instead of copying and pasting as well as posting it here...
Nicolas SARKOZY Président   Mon Dec 08, 2008 10:24 am GMT
Bien sur que le français est important. Il y a décidément beaucoup de débiles sur ce site. Casse toi pauvre con!

Nicolas SARKOZY Président de la république française.
Tyrone   Mon Dec 08, 2008 11:11 am GMT
La cantidad de spam ha crecido mucho recientemente y creo que esto se debe a la apariencia de preguntas anti-spam sobre el idioma francés. Yo no tengo nada en contra del francés pero me parece que polariza a la comunidad y por eso los moderadores deberían reemplazar la pregunta actual con algo un poquito más neutral para evitar estos conflictos ridículos (si se puede en realidad hablar de un antagonismo entre el español y el francés, que me parece que está restringido a este foro).