Language and culture are at the core of education, or should be. With all the debate about language learning methods, the definition of “linguist”, input versus output versus grammar, the role of the Internet etc. it is sometimes useful to take step back.

What is the most useful thing we learn at school and in life? Language and culture. If we have a deep understanding of our own language and culture we feel secure. If we read well, and are good listeners, with a wide range of vocabulary and general knowledge, and if we express ourselves confidenty, in our own language, we will do well in the tasks that we face as life long learners.

If we can do the same in one or more foreign language and culture, we expand our range of experience,  increase our knowledge of the human condition, and make friends of people from many more backgrounds and origins.

So it is not a matter of technology or method. It is a matter of acquiring advanced skills in language and culture. Like so many other things, this boils down to interest and motivation.

I have never been that interested in learning Arabic, or learning about Arab history. I mean we can only do so many things. I have acquired skills in the language and culture of China, Japan, Russia and various European countries. But I have just finished a very interesting book called The Great Arab Conquests by Hugh Kennedy. Fascinating. I had a sense of the Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, the development of China, the modern history of Europe, but I had little exposure to the storied saga of Arab expansion and the development of this international cultural space. Now I have a start. Can the language be far behind?