President Emmanuel Macron outlined plans Tuesday to transform French into a top international language through the vehicles of education, media and art.
In a keynote speech at the French Institute in Paris, Macron said France aims open French institutes overseas beginning in 2019, and double the number of students going to French high schools overseas, as well as foreign students studying in France.
Macron also announced the creation of a Francophonie hub at a chateau outside Paris, where French was made this country's official language in the 16th century. Other plans include supporting the development of cultural and creative industries in Francophone Africa and the Caribbean, and funding cinema co-productions with North African countries.
In addition, Macron said refugees in France must have greater access to French classes.
French, Macron said, must reach new audiences and reconquer terrains, including business and economy, where English rules.
Today, French ranks sixth worldwide in number of speakers, behind Mandarin, English and Spanish. But the Paris-based International Francophonie Organization estimates the number of French speakers will almost triple to 700 million by 2050, with the large majority in Africa.
Macron's drive to promote French has drawn criticism, notably from leading African writers and intellectuals who believe it smacks of neocolonialism. The president acknowledged this in his speech, describing French as a language that was inclusive and open, and thrived alongside others.
Macron also said Francophonie needs to recognize other languages, and defend those that are fragile and isolated.