Booking your next vacation with your French-language studies in mind? You’re a class act. Immersion is one of the best ways to learn a language, but you probably already knew that.
This article isn’t just about praising you for being proactive, however. It’s also about opening your mind to the huge number of French-speaking places in the world. Though it took an unfortunate legacy of colonialism to help make it so, French is now the sixth most-widely spoken language in the world, and it’s one of the fastest-growing.
Indeed, you don’t have to go to France to practice your French — and you’ll probably get to experience an alternative version of the language that way. It’s an official language in 29 countries, and that doesn’t even count all the places where it’s unofficially spoken. Half of all French speakers live in Africa, and the population growth there could push the total number of French speakers to as high as 700 million by 2050 (compared to about 300 million today).
Here are a few of the best French-speaking destinations to visit (that aren’t France).
A little under half the population of Belgium speaks French as a native language, though most of them are concentrated in the southern Wallonia region and in the capital, Brussels. Brussels is actually officially bilingual, with its street signs and advertising printed in both Flemish and French. You’re way more likely to hear French spoken on the streets of Brussels, however. Plus, we hear it’s a good spot to experience other “French” things, like fried potatoes.
If you’re going to visit Canada to practice your French, the obvious recommendation is Quebec. Out of the 10 million native French speakers living in Canada, 7 million live here. Montreal is actually the fourth-largest Francophone city in the world (Paris being the first, followed by Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast). Also: poutine.
There are more than 100 islands in the South Pacific that make up French Polynesia, Tahiti being the largest. In terms of “island paradise,” you probably can’t get much better than this, and the language barrier is actually pretty robust — meaning you’ll get a rigorous French workout while you’re lounging among the hibiscus flowers.
French is widely spoken in Luxembourg, which easily ranks as one of Europe’s most multilingual countries. It’s also one of the world’s top nations in wine consumption, so that’s a pretty good indication of a fun time. For such a small country, it packs a lot of dense forests, dramatic cliffs and fairytale castles.
If you’re into nature and biodiversity, head to Africa’s largest island. Madagascar’s wildlife is especially unique thanks to its geographic isolation, and it’s the only place in the world where you can see lemurs in their natural habitat. There are more speakers of Malagasy than French in Madagascar, but these are both official languages here, and you’re likely to encounter many Francophone locals.
If the Caribbean is more your speed, consider visiting Martinique. It’s not only the rum capital of the world, but with its blend of French, African, Creole and West Indian influences, the country is also considered to have some of the best food in the Caribbean. Martinique is officially an overseas region of France, so French is its official language. Almost everyone there also speaks Antillean Creole, a French-based creole.
Rwanda is widely touted as one of Africa’s best travel destinations, especially for lovers of wildlife (it’s one of the best places for seeing gorillas in the wild). Its official languages include Kinyarwanda, French, English and Swahili. Though Rwanda officially switched its entire education system from French to English (likely in large part due to the French government’s role in the Rwandan genocide), many Rwandans are still Francophones.
Senegal is home to some of West Africa’s best nightlife and food, and it’s also got great beaches and wildlife to rival its urban backdrops. French is the official language here, though the indigenous language Wolof is the most widely spoken. Not everyone you meet in Senegal will understand French, so it might be a good idea to brush up on a few basic greetings and phrases in Wolof before you go.
This idyllic 115-island country has plenty in the way of beaches and natural parks. But despite the fact that it has the smallest population of any African state, its culture is also incredibly compelling. The Republic of Seychelles has no indigenous population, but rather, a multi-ethnic melting pot made up of people from virtually every corner of the globe. English, French, and Seychellois Creole (a French-based creole) are the most widely spoken languages.
About one in five Swiss nationals speak French as a native language (and an even greater number have a working knowledge of it), but the biggest reason to travel to Switzerland as a French student is to experience the differences between Swiss French and Standard French. Swiss French is the variety of French spoken in Romandy (the French-speaking region of Switzerland). Here’s a brief primer on the differences between French and Swiss French.
This Pacific 80-plus island archipelago has French as one of three official languages, and it’s your place to go if you’re into visiting deserted beaches, hiking volcanoes and diving. Though Bislama, an English-based creole, is the primary language spoken by locals, the French influence can be felt (especially in Port Vila).