November 1, 2023, marks the start of a new promising chapter for Francophonie culture and international influence. It is the date when the new International French Language Center, the first cultural venue entirely dedicated to the French language, will open to the public at the Château de Villers-Cotterêts (Hauts de France region).
The selection of this location carries some significance. In 1539, it was here that François I signed the well-known decree making French the country’s official language of law and administration. Some 484 years later, his château, restored under the supervision of the Centre des monuments nationaux, has taken up his legacy. This place stands today as a worthy symbol of the richness of the French language. The project has received €179 million in funding from the French Ministry for Culture.
The 247,000 sq. m. estate offers an immersive experience within its 129,000 sq. m. of dedicated space. Under the management of Xavier Bailly, the Center aims to be a multi-purpose space for French language education, culture, research and technology. Numerous esteemed institutions, including the International Organization of “Francophonie” (OIF), have already forged collaborative partnerships with the site.
According to data from the Francophonie Observatory, French is ranked as the fifth most widely spoken language across the globe, with 321 million speakers in 112 different countries and territories. Furthermore, its international presence is on an upward trajectory: French is the second most taught language in the world, with over 50 million learners spread across all countries. According to estimates from the OIF, the number of French speakers is expected to reach 715 million by 2050, representing 8% of the world’s population (compared with 3% in 2023).
French also asserts itself in international relations. Once a pre-eminent diplomatic language, it has been designated as one of the official languages in numerous prominent organizations, including the United Nations, NATO, the International Olympic Committee and the International Red Cross. The opening of the International French Language Center confirms the government’s commitment to promote French as a global language.