There are nearly 49 million Francophones in the Congo, more than 12 million in Germany, over 11 million in Canada and the United Kingdom, nearly 6 million in Switzerland, and more than 2 million in the United States (to this figure, let’s add 9 million francophiles of Francophone heritage). These statistics come from an estimate of the number of Francophones, carried out by the Observatoire démographique et statistique de l’espace francophone (ODSEF, the Demographic and Statistical Observatory of the Francophone World), for each of these entities. In 2022, the French-speaking galaxy is composed of no less than 321 million speakers living in 112 countries and territories. This galaxy represents a subset of territories where the Francophony of everyday life (known as the planet “Born and/or also living in French”, composed of a group of 36 countries, mostly on the African continent, where nearly 80% of the world’s Francophones are concentrated) is distinguished from that which is expressed in environments where French is exclusively a foreign language. 

Source : https://observatoire.francophonie.org/qui-parle-francais-dans-le-monde/

French is the 5th most spoken language in the world (after English, Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish) and the only one, with the exception of English, to be used on all five continents. Of course, French speakers do more than communicate in the language of Molière; they live, entertain themselves, socialize with people and do business in French. On their own, the 88 states and governments which are members and observers of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of the Francophony) account for 17.5% of the world’s population and represent 16.5% of the world’s income and 20% of its commercial trade. This makes French the 3rd most important business language in the world.  

The Canadian Francophony, a creator of wealth  

In Canada, the socioeconomic impact of French-speaking communities is far from negligible: Francophone businesses generate 19.5% of the country’s GDP. Last March, Charles Milliard, President of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce), rightly highlighted that French is “economically rich, and entrepreneurs are not always aware of its economic potential and of the opportunities that are available to them.” In May, Mr. Millard added that “in Quebec, we talk a lot about French in a defensive manner, whereas we should take advantage of it and go on the offensive. It is certainly a language that needs to be protected, but we must also use it as a tool for economic development.” 

Business in French is hindered by a stereotypical view of languages 

 

However, it only takes a brief foray into the field of language sciences to understand that many people perceive French as an unsuitable language for doing business.  

Professor Matthieu LeBlanc, of Université de Moncton, reported in one of his sociolinguistic research studies that “in the eyes of many Francophones, English is the language of administration, the language of business par excellence.” Why is that so? Mr. LeBlanc observed that French speakers often perceive English as the lingua franca, the vehicular language of commercial relations and global trade. Many people credit English with qualities such as flexibility, universality, intuitiveness and simplicity, while French is perceived as more complex and less accessible. Often, these attributes are mostly mentioned in French-speaking minority communities, where speakers may experience greater language insecurity.   

Doing business in French: recognized advantages 

Nevertheless, the French-speaking world is a fertile ground for business development and a market that should not be underestimated. Companies who run their activities partly or wholly in French enjoy many advantages when they choose to do business in French, both in Canada and internationally. For example, there is a positive statistical link between, on one hand, the sharing of a common language and, on the other hand, the intensity of commercial flows (trade, investment, migration). The sharing of a common language also helps to reduce transaction and communication costs. Moreover, businesses that enter new markets belonging to the same linguistic space find it easier to create a sense of cultural proximity, especially within the context of bilateral trade relations. 

In this regard, did you know that on June 16th a memorandum of understanding between Investissement Québec International and Business France was signed in order to “strengthen the partnership between the two agencies for the benefit of French and Quebec companies”? The use of the word “strengthen” is certainly not accidental, since Canada and France already have a mutually favourable commercial relationship. It is estimated that in 2021, the value of Quebec companies’ exports to France reached $1.7 billion, while French exports to Quebec attained $3.5 billion. Among Canadian provinces, Quebec easily wins the best commercial partner award with 47.1% of France-Canada trade relations. The story does not end there. Keep in mind that 2023 has been named the Year of France-Quebec Innovation, which should contribute to consolidating new partnerships in leading-edge, high-value-added sectors. 

Source : CDEFQ

The Francophony of the Americas also offers tremendous opportunities to be taken. The ODSEF and the Centre de la francophonie des Amériques (Francophony of the Americas Centre) estimate that there are over 20 million Francophones on this side of the Atlantic. This figure rises to 33 million if we include Francophiles. Here, French is a language of culture, a language of science and of economics. In the Americas, we benefit from numerous developing markets and from a privileged access to English, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking business communities that share many common linguistic and cultural roots. 

Entering new international markets does not count among your ambitions? Perhaps you prefer to strengthen your position within the Quebec market? You should know that it is still advantageous to use and promote French in your goods and services trading with your clients and suppliers, even in the Greater Montreal Area. The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal points out that the use of French at work and in business dealings: 

  • Promotes the acquisition of a local clientele and allows you to stand out from North American competition. 70% of the Greater Montreal Area’s customers prefer French as a greeting language, and when shopping online, 39.6% say that they prefer using French-language shopping sites; 
  • Contributes to increased worker productivity and business profitability. Francophone employees who work in their native language or language of training understand their tasks more quickly and make fewer mistakes. What’s more, we can expect better customer relations when employees can serve customers in the language of their choice. This is especially true in contexts where Francophones are a minority; 
  • Allows businesses to avoid unwanted costs. Does the Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec, ring a bell? Most probably… It contains numerous obligations that employers covered by the Act must respect, in particular the usage of French as the official language of work and communications.  

Be there, be where it matters 

Since its founding in 2010, Zone franche has always relied on the potential and on the economic benefits of the Francophony in order to enable its North American and European clients to stand out, enjoy optimal visibility and achieve their business objectives. The agency, which specializes in accompanying French companies wishing to enter the Quebec market and vice-versa, leverages the strength and beneficial influence of public relations to open a gateway to the world. Its employees based in Montreal and Paris understand the challenges as well as the linguistic and cultural subtleties of these markets and can provide sound strategic advice from a communications, networking and issues management perspective. 

Whether your company has business activities in Quebec or elsewhere, and whether it functions mainly in English or French, doing business in French is entirely possible, and even desirable! In July, Zone franche will participate in the first edition of the Rendez-vous d’affaires de la Francophonie (Business Summit of the Francophony), organized by Québec International, in order to learn about the latest best practices in this area and to continue supporting its clients as effectively as possible. 

And what if collaboration between Francophones was a guarantee of international success?