Why the Nordic people succeed (at languages and just about everything)is a major interest of mine. I may differ a bit with your comments. In short the answer is free time: 18 months maternity/paternity leave ...... one month vacation for everybody who is employed , 80 paid sick days to care for children-to age 8, free health care, quality free pre-k[indergarten], quality free universities and much more.So, is this true? Is free time the answer?
It's noteworthy that the gentleman who left this comment is American, where I understand employees only get as little as 2 week's paid leave time from work and it seems that other services are not as good/cost effective to the individual as they are here reported to be in Scandinavia. However, the situation in the UK resembles the Scandinavian one as described above far more than it does what I understand the US one to be, but does that mean that Brits are good at languages? That they use their free time to learn to speak other languages?
In a word: no. We too have 4+ weeks per year paid leave, plus another 1-2 in public holidays (depending on who you work for) and access to maternity/paternity leave programmes. albeit shorter ones. We too have comparatively good and 'free' health care, pre-school provision and so on. We do now have tuition fees for higher education, but this is a relatively new phenomenon and doesn't seem to have affected the average Brit's interest in foreign languages in the least! Most Brits barely know a word of any language, save a few expressions they may remember from school or from the media (a favourite TV show, a popular song etc), and most don't really want or see the need to.
Last term I had a Swedish classmate, a 19/20 year old lad taking a year out from uni to come and improve his Chinese. He spoke excellent English and had also learned German and Spanish in school - from a very early age too! His comments both about what he'd had to learn in school and why, confirmed my belief that foreign languages are stressed as very important in Swedish schools and that kids there are expected to get a grip of as many as they can in order to communicate with non-Swedes. I also seriously doubt that the Scandinavians use their leave time to study languages under the banner of caring for sick children or being on holiday/vacation! They already have the language skills from school.
It isn't a matter of free time, it's a matter of viewpoint - how important is this to me?