The way I see it the database application, e.g. dBase, Foxpro, MS Access, whatever and/or the programming language are a means to an end. Relational databases are what it's all about now - small scale stuff for our needs I'd have thought.
The real art of developing a database, so I'm led to believe, is in determining the relationships between the data tables, i.e. metadata and functionality, queries, front-end applications, reports and working out systems of work, processes, etc.
The language or application shouldn't really be an issue but If a language includes really useful methods aimed towards database development then surely this is better than keep "reinventing the wheel". Perhaps UML is the key to design.
MS VB (.NET) Express Edition is totally free and probably gives anyone starting out more than enough to develop useful applications or databases. Downloads available from Microsoft FOC.