Which cities in Africa speak the most French?
March 23, 2015 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I want to go to Africa and learn French. I have seen an old ask mefi question asking similar, but I specifically am looking for the cities in Africa that speak French with the highest frequency, and it would be a bonus if they don't speak English (So I'll be forced to learn French). I haven't been able to google any statistics by city. Thanks.
posted by crawltopslow to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a specific reason you want to learn African French as opposed to, say, French French, or French Canadian French? Pronunciation is quite different in these, and there is variation in pronunciation, word usage, syntax in the many African former French colonies. Where are you located? You could also consider places like Martinique or Guiana.
posted by mareli at 9:39 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

At least according to Wolfram , the DRC leads for most French speakers outside of France ( and, conveniently inside Africa).
posted by marsbar77 at 9:40 AM on March 23, 2015

I want to live in Africa, and I want to learn french while I'm there. I am specifically looking for cities, not countries. I'm in USA.
posted by crawltopslow at 9:44 AM on March 23, 2015

I have several friends who had a quite immersive (French) language experience in Dakar, Senegal, and also felt at least mostly safe there. Some of them also learned Wolof but I think that was a personal choice rather than needing it to get around.

I would seriously investigate the safety of Kinshasa before you make any plans to go to the DRC; the country has been famously war-torn and unstable for almost 20 years. The U.S. State.gov travel site seems to indicate that Kinshasa is more stable than the north and east, so take that for what it's worth.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 9:51 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dakar is a fairly popular destination for students of French who want to study in Africa (a friend of mine spent her undergraduate year abroad there) which means that it has a decent study-French-abroad infrastructure. Wolof is the local language, but French is the official language. You won't get by on English alone. Senegal is also fairly politically stable compared to some of its francophone neighbours, notwithstanding a president who loudly defends his country's bigoted laws against homosexuality.
posted by holgate at 9:54 AM on March 23, 2015

I'm a former Peace Corps volunteer who lived in an African country for a few years, and traveled in many other countries while I was working there. One challenge that I will mention about your question in advance in regards to pulling up general statistics is that there are many, many local dialects within a country. So although French might be the official language, people in a village will speak a local dialect over French. It is not uncommon to find younger and older people who do not speak any French at all.

The one exception to this is very large cities where people from distinct parts of the country congregate and have to use French to communicate, since they will not necessarily know the other local dialects.

So a place that I can definitely state uses French is Libreville, Gabon. It has been relatively stable throughout many years.

Nthing Joey a thousand times. Absolutely check the state gov. website - the situation in various countries changes rapidly. I was also in Kinshasa many years ago - it was French speaking, it great place to visit many years ago, but I would not send someone there based some of the political changes.
posted by Wolfster at 9:57 AM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

From this Wikipedia page, I computed this list of percent of French-speaking people in African countries where French is an official language.

Gabon 75%
Ivory Coast 59%
Comoros 42%
Democratic Republic of the Congo 41%
Republic of the Congo 30%
Togo 29%
Central African Republic 21%
Guinea 19%
Djibouti 18%
Chad 17%
Cameroon 15%
Equatorial Guinea 14%
Senegal 9%
Benin 8%
Niger 8%
Mali 8%
Rwanda 6%
Seychelles 5%
Burundi 5%
Burkina Faso 4%
Madagascar 4%
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:03 AM on March 23, 2015

That list leaves off Morocco, which is pretty French.
posted by smackfu at 10:21 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bamako (Mali) is French speaking. I was there for about a month a few years back and I was able to dust off my French.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:49 AM on March 23, 2015

I was going to suggest North African countries as well – Morocco and Tunisia are very stable, Algeria's getting there (but even Algerians I know raise eyebrows and shake their heads "nah" when asked if they consider going back), with Morocco the most stable of them. Plus you could learn Arabic, which will get you very far in a lot of Africa as well. While they speak a dialect in Arabic, Casablanca and Marrakech are closer to classical Arabic for reasons of greater cultural intermixing.

Otherwise I would vote Dakar, Senegal, yeah. Senegalese friends and coworkers are generally pretty positive about their home country. Not quite the case with Congo and Côte d'Ivoire.
posted by fraula at 11:06 AM on March 23, 2015

Members of La Francophonie

More details en francais including population counts.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:32 AM on March 23, 2015

Just be prepared that when you take your Africa French to France or Canada or the like that they're gonna eyeball you. You'll be learning a very Africanized pronunciation. Not that that's a bad thing - just be aware. (I say this as one who has used my textbook-style French in DRC, Central African Republic, Burundi and environs.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:04 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Bamako, Mali.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:52 PM on March 23, 2015

Abidjan has better (in the grammatical sense) than Dakar. Of course it's not as safe, but you can get around that depending on your budget.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:36 PM on March 23, 2015

Almost everyone I met in Morocco spoke French. Marrakech, Fez, Casablanca, Essaouira, Rabat... I wouldn't count on learning Arabic in Morocco though. I've taken quite a few Arabic classes and still find Darija (Moroccan Arabic) very challenging. It's not particularly useful outside of Morocco either. If you're interested in Arabic, think about Egypt.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Congo (Brazzaville) and Madagascar are possibilities but neither are nearly as safe as Morocco. Lots of people speak French in South Africa but there's tons of English speakers as well.
posted by tealcake at 2:59 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agree that Maghrebi does not take you as far as Egyptian would. But, your question is about French.

"I want to live in Africa" is as broad as "I want to live in Asia" - the latter equally covered Russia, India, and Vietnam. I think you should ask yourself, "where do I want to live?" and give an answer more specific than a continent. There are over twenty francophone countries in Africa and each one is different. Do you think you would prefer Morocco or Madagascar? Tunisia or Senegal? Pick the country and let the language follow. (subject to State Dept. travel advice)
posted by Tanizaki at 3:26 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Focusing on the actual question, I'll third Bamako — several Francophone friends have spent time (from a few months to several years) there and have absolutely loved it.
posted by third word on a random page at 7:54 PM on March 23, 2015

In most Francophone African countries (listed above), people in the capital who have about an 8th grade education will most likely speak French. There will also be a lot who do not, at all; I would not consider going to anywhere but the capital if I wanted to learn French.

I would also focus on finding some sort of language program (through a university or something). You will need some French to survive, and finding a language teacher on the ground might be difficult without it. In francophone Africa, I have not found that many people speak English.

Spitballing: Dakar would be a good bet - safe, more infrastructure, probably established language programs. Kigali might be an option; they are traditionally francophone but are moving toward the anglosphere, so the older generations will speak French. Kinshasa is not as unsafe as people imagine, but it's not great. Bamako is sleepy and nice, but the unrest in the north has made it to Bamako lately. I wouldn't consider Togo/Gambia/Niger because they're so rural. I wouldn't consider Chad. Morocco would be fabulous, and there is a lot of French + tourist infrastructure. Not a ton of people in Comoros or Madagascar actually speak French.
posted by quadrilaterals at 11:31 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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