French has long been considered the language of diplomacy, having only been eclipsed by English as the world’s language within the last half of the 20th century. Despite English’s current dominance, French still maintains a strong, second-place position on the world’s diplomatic stage.
French is currently used as an official or co-official language in over 31 countries or non-sovereign states. Over 275 million people speak the language, including 47 million in the United States alone. Other than English, French is the only language to be spoken on all five continents. Over 96 million Africans speak it either as an official or co-official language in their countries. It is even estimated that French will be the most widely spoken language in the world by 2050.
French also has a long history with Egypt and Lebanon, and even with Vietnam. It has deep roots in the Maghreb, where much of Algeria speaks it with a fluency as native as Arabic. Nearly all educated natives of Tunisia and Morocco also speak excellent French.
As one of the United Nations five official languages, French is important for IWP students given its broad use in countries that are allies or hostile to U.S. interests.