It’s Not Just the Booze Speaking: Alcohol Does Improve Foreign Language Skills

Spaten beer at the Oktoberfest in Munich.

By Jonathan Spira on 24 October 2017
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Having grown up speaking two languages simultaneously, namely German and English, and having acquired a smattering of French and Hungarian along the way, I noticed from time to time that my conversational French seemed to flow much more readily after a glass or two of wine.

In the same vein, I noticed that a few friends who spoke somewhat halting but credible German during the day seemed to move into near-native fluency when in the Biergarten.

It wasn’t the wine or beer speaking.

Indeed, according to researchers from three major universities, the improvement isn’t something accentuated by a few drinks; rather, alcohol does in fact improve foreign language skills. Alcohol had no impact, however, on self-rating of language skills.

The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, was conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool, Universiteit Maastricht, and King’s College London. The researchers followed 50 native German speakers who then learnt to speak Dutch at the Universiteit Maastricht.

Participants in the study were given either a non-alcoholic beverage or a drink with a low amount of alcohol and asked to have a conversation in Dutch for a few minutes, which was recorded for later review.

The conversations were rated by two native Dutch speakers who did not know who had consumed an alcoholic beverage. Study participants who had imbibed were rated as having better pronunciation and received overall better ratings than the teetotaler.

“Acute alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language in people who recently learned that language, “said study co-author Inga Kersbergen of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society.

The researchers believe one major factor is that alcohol lowers social anxiety and boosts self-confidence although they also said that the findings are not definitive.

“One possible mechanism could be the anxiety-reducing effect of alcohol, “said Dr. Jessica Werthmann of Universiteit Maastricht.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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