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French is considered a Romance language since it belongs to the Indo-European family. It descended from the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire, as did other languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, and Catalan. The closest relatives of the French language are the other languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French has largely replaced.

French was influenced by native Celtic languages of Roman Gaul and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France’s past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole and Cajun Creole spoken in Louisiana..

French is the second-most widespread language worldwide after English. Only French and English are spoken on all five continents. French is an official language in 29 countries, most of which form the community of French-speaking countries. French is spoken as a first language in France, southern Belgium, western Switzerland, Monaco, the provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick and some parts of Ontario in Canada, parts of the U.S. states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, among educated classes in North Africa, Haiti, and French Polynesia.

French is an official language of many international organizations including the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the WTO and the ICRC. In 2011, French was deemed by Bloomberg Businessweek to be one of the top three most useful languages for business, third behind English and Chinese.