French is a part of the language family known as romance languages, so called because they came from Latin (which was spoken by Romans — get it?!). Included in this family are Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian; these languages share many similarities because they all come from a common source. Despite the similarities, however, each is distinct and different, and many agree that French is one of the most “romantic” languages of all, even if they are referring more to Champagne than Caesar.
French is spoken around the world, in a vestige of the vast French colonization which began in the seventeenth century and lasted until the mid-twentieth. In North America, you may run across French speakers in Canada or Louisiana. It is widely spoken in Europe, Africa, and the West Indies; even some Asian countries use French as a major language. In short, you'll never know where it may come in handy to know a little bit of French. In this book, we concentrate on standard French, which is sometimes referred to as Parisian French.
In a sense, the French language has its own governing body. The French Academy, or l'Académie française, was originally established in 1635 and oversees the development of the language. It registers all official French words; until the Academy approves it, a word isn't officially a part of the language. Despite its efforts to preserve the French language, some expressions still slip in. You'll inevitably be understood if you order un hamburger or un hot-dog in French, even if the Academy doesn't acknowledge these words.