The Most Populated Country in the World: A Weird Teaching Story

This could have been a funny teaching story except for the fact I have no idea how to interpret it.

In class we started talking about the most widely spoken languages in the world.

“So which country has the largest population?” I asked as a way of getting students to name the language of that country.

“France!” many of them responded.

Does anybody have an explanation of why, of all possible places, they mentioned France? Is there some reason people would associate France and not, say, Germany or Italy (let alone China) with having such a huge population?

16 thoughts on “The Most Populated Country in the World: A Weird Teaching Story

  1. If you take a cursory look at a map of Western Europe, I can see why one might think that about France, since it’s one of the bigger countries.
    You can fit fourteen Frances in Canada though, and Canada’s population is still considerably lower than France’s. 😉


    1. You’re just being nice and accommodative 🙂

      If these students did in fact look at a map and equated space with population, shouldn’t they have rooted for the US? Failing which, China? Or ‘Africa’, because we all know Africa is a country? I’m not even stepping Chinawards. I’m not buying this map theory. But someday, some class will be very lucky to have you as an instructor 🙂


    2. I took a look at world statistics and, holy crap, must there be a lot of unpopulated space in Canada. Are you guys over there not pro-creating, or what ?

      According to the stats, there are 33 mio people living in Canada, or 3 people per km².
      The USA has 298 mio people with 30 per km² and Germany has 82 mio people with 230 per km².

      World’s leader in therm of density is Macao with 18k people per km², but only 480k inhabitants total.


      1. The problem is that most of the land in Canada is uninhabitable. So the country’s land mass by itself is deceiving.

        Also, Canada is a country where feminist values are strong. People with strong feminist values always stop procreating at massive rates for the obvious reasons.


      2. The other problem is that the map that you looked at probably was flat and almost all of those distort the areas near the poles making them appear much larger in proportion to equatorial areas. For centuries the most popular project was the one developed by Mercator in the 1500s. In the past 40 years various modifications of the Mercator projection have come into popular use, but most still distort so that Antarctica appears to be larger than all other continents and Greenland appears larger than the US.


  2. That’s really weird! Who on earth would ever think that France is the most populous country in the world? Do these kids know that a continent called Asia exists?


  3. I am sure that Sarkozy will be very pleased with your students’ assessment of the size and importance of France and by implication him. After all this is a man who wears high heels and demands that his wife wear flats at public functions so that he will appear only 5 cm shorter than her.


    1. I am now dying to conduct a poll to see if they know Sarkozy’s name. 🙂

      The good thing is that at this university, when I asked the students what the capital of Spain is, Madrid was the only answer they offered. When I taught at Yale, answers varied from Granada to Malaga (of all the places in the world) and Caracas.


      1. I’m trying to figure out how you tie this to Spanish. Then it occurred to me! Hungary was part of the Hapsburg realm for centuries. You tie it through Carlos V.

        Malaga?? Wait, it just occurred to me. Malaga is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas. For some students that might make it the most important city in Spain.


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