I had the great privilege of spending a day with ninety of our secondary students at the Louvre Abu Dhabi this week. The Louvre is a fine place for thinking about all sorts of things, and as I stood gazing into the ‘Tower of Babel’ by Abel Grimmer, I was moved to consider the problem of language. The biblical Tower of Babel is an origin story, an explanation of why so many languages are spoken by humans, the main thrust of which is that the many languages on the planet were designed to divide us, to prevent humans from being able to communicate so well that they would become too powerful.
It is true that the different languages that we speak can make life difficult. I recall with some regret the time I told a French neighbor that I was going to a friends’ house to ‘eat their dog’ (I was going to ‘feed their dog’, I got my verbs mixed up...). It can be a considerable effort at times to navigate the many languages and dialects spoken around the world and reaching understanding isn’t always as easy as we’d like.
It is also true though that when we communicate well, when we understand each other, we can be so much more powerful. That is why we put such great emphasis on language learning and why in our school we aim for all of our students to be proficient in at least three languages, English, Arabic and French. Many of our students are proficient in other languages too and these languages add to the wonderful diversity of our community. Nearly one billion people on our planet speak English, half a billion speak Arabic and a third of a billion speak French. If we succeed in our aims, students who spend time in our school will be able to communicate with a very sizeable proportion of the people on our planet and who knows what they might achieve by improving their ability to understand each other? What towers might they build?
Chris Lowe, Head of Secondary