Why Arabic language lessons at Stroud High School set up pupils for life
WHAT flows from right to left when written and is the third most spoken language after English and French?
Back at my old school in Stroud I found out that the answer is the modern Arabic they're teaching, which is the official language of 27 states in the world.
At first I thought nothing could be further from Stroud High School, nestled in rural, leafy Gloucestershire, than the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa where Arabic is in everyday use.
But with the axis of global wealth and power turned towards China, India and of course countries like Saudi Arabia and its neighbours, I quickly learned how important modern Arabic is to today's students.
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They are, of course, the adult business people, teachers, academics, even the peacemakers and politicians, of the future.
Stroud High School has been teaching Arabic for three years.
"We need to prepare our girls for a global future," said Sally Haigh, international co-ordinator at the school.
"For the jobs they are looking for, especially our high flyers, they need to be outward looking."
Sixth former Mary Holditch, 17, had certainly taken Ms Haigh's message on board.
Set on studying languages at university, probably French and Arabic, Mary said Arabic was difficult but she really enjoyed putting everything together.
As teacher John Headspeath led the class in first pronouncing Arabic numbers, then reading simple words of greeting, to finally interpreting script, Mary said: "I am interested in travelling and seeing the world. I'm quite interested in human rights and social justice too."
Mr Headspeath, 57, learned his Arabic during the 10 years he was working for the Foreign Office.
His work in Saudi, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates added Arabic to the German and Spanish he'd learned at university.
"I suppose you could say there are three different Arabics," Mr Headspeath said.
"This is modern, standard Arabic, rather like BBC English. All educated Arabs will understand this Arabic. The Qur'an, that is different, a classical style.
"Then there are colloquial dialects, the language spoken in the street."
Employment opportunities for Arabic speakers start with GCHQ, right here in the county, and stretch quite obviously to the Middle East.
Gloucestershire businessman Stuart Harrison's work takes his team to Arab countries including Dubai, Bahrain and Oman to train and supply civilian and military customers.
Stroud-based Mr Harrison, chairman of the International Aviation Group, agreed a knowledge of Arabic was "absolutely invaluable" for tomorrow's businesspeople.
"But only combined with an understanding of the culture too," corporate financier Mr Harrison said.
His message appeared to already have been taken on board by pupil Mary Hutchinson, 12, drawn to the after-school Arabic lesson by her love of Eastern music.
"When I was little I used to listen to Arabic and quite liked the sound of it and want to learn what the words meant," she said.