In the global realm of languages, French has been losing ground:
Across Europe, French has gradually declined from being the lingua franca to falling behind German and English. English is spoken by 41% of Europeans, while only 19% speak French. English is now the language of business in Europe, a fact which even French ambassador for international investment Clara Gaymard was forced to admit. And French has fallen so far behind in Eastern Europe, in particular, that it is the third-most studied language, behind English and Spanish.
While once the language of culture, French has been pushed off the global stage. Perhaps the most symbolic example of this was in 2008 when Sebastian Tiller, the French representative at the Eurovision contest, planned to sing ‘Divine’ almost exclusively in English. That the French singer did not choose to represent the jealously guarded language of his country internationally came as a shock to many. This cultural decline was mirrored when New York’s Metropolitan Opera decided to reject the libretto of the musical star Rufus Wainwright (who was raised in Canada), because he chose not to translate his opera into English.
The calamitous decline in French seems irreversible, even to the French. In 2008, the budget of La Francophonie, the governing body of the French language, was six million euros; in contrast, the British Council announced it would spend 150 million euros in efforts to advance English.
Who knew that there organizations that spent millions of dollars a year to advance particular languages?
I would guess that this is tied to France’s standing in the world today. No longer a colonial nation and no longer the world’s leading culture (as it was considered to be in the late 1700s/early 1800s), the language then becomes less attractive. But this story also sounds like it is about the rise of English. If people can around the world can only pursue a certain number of languages in their lifetime, it sounds like French is simply being crowded out.