Today is the European Day of Languages, an initiative organised by the Council of Europe and the European Commission. It is also a day when we can expect that we Brits will be berated in the media for our supposed hopelessness at learning foreign languages. We don't even need the media to criticise us for our linguistic shortcomings; most of us will do that for ourselves.
Well, I am going to debunk that myth, or perhaps I should say I intend to vilipend it (and thus use one of the words on Collins endangered list). People born in Norway, Egypt, Poland, Mexico, China and most other countries do not face a dilemma when deciding what should be the first foreign language they learn - it has to be English. It's not even as if they choose English so they can cope in Britain or the USA; an Italian and a Pole will communicate in English, as will a Japanese person when speaking to a Greek. Resources are targeted at learning English in these countries. For us it is a different matter. When your native language is English, which foreign language should you learn first? Spanish? French? Chinese? Many schools offer four or five foreign languages and resources have to be spread more thinly.
When we talk about other nations being good at speaking languages, what we mean is that they are good at speaking English. You just try finding a Greek language class in a small town in Latvia, or a Latvian class in Japan. Here in Britain there are dozens of languages on offer at colleges and adult education institutes - and they are perennially popular. I can learn Czech, Turkish, Arabic, and even Welsh or Irish at a college about ten miles from me in south London. If I'm prepared to travel to central London, I'll have a very wide choice of classes in my preferred language.