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Alcohol Helps You Speak a Foreign Language Better

Those who dabble in learning a new language sometimes find that alcohol — in moderation — helps them speak more fluently. In a way, that makes sense: It’s been shown that a beer or a glass of wine can lower inhibitions, which may make it easier for some people to overcome nervousness or hesitation.

Alcohol can help lower your inhibitions and give your brain a dose of the feel-good chemical, dopamine. And now, according to new research, it can also help you speak a foreign language better.

British and Dutch researchers recently tested this theory in an experiment, which was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The study included 50 native German speakers studying at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The students took classes in Dutch and passed a test making them proficient speakers.

The researchers split the students into two groups, giving one alcohol and the other water. Each person then had a short conversation in Dutch with an interviewer, which was recorded and scored by native Dutch speakers. The participants also ranked their own performance on how well they spoke.

The research found that the self-ratings weren’t affected by drinking or not drinking. The native Dutch speakers, however, found that those who had consumed alcohol had better pronunciation and fluency.

There are a few other facts to put this new knowledge into perspective. The first is that the amount of alcohol the subjects had was low. Downing a bunch of drinks won’t automatically turn you into a bilingual person. The authors of the research noted that a higher consumption would have the opposite effect, and may even slur their speech. This study is also only one controlled example. It would have to be tested with different languages to show that the results aren’t a one-off.

Image by University Of Nottingham

Researchers are also not sure why alcohol has this effect. The people in the study knew what they were drinking, so it’s not clear if their speech improved because of alcohol’s psychological or biological effects. The study didn’t record people’s emotions, but the authors state that low-to-moderate doses of alcohol can “reduce language anxiety” and thus make them more confident and proficient speakers.

The study’s findings should also be replicated in other groups of people, they add, to show that the results aren’t unique to native German speakers or to people learning Dutch. At least one other paper supports this theory, though; in a 1972 study, small doses of alcohol improved Americans’ pronunciation of words in Thai.

While the study did not measure people’s mental states or emotions, the authors say it’s possible that a low-to-moderate dose of alcohol “reduces language anxiety” and therefore increases proficiency. “This might enable foreign language speakers to speak more fluently in the foreign language after drinking a small amount of alcohol,” they conclude.

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