New research claims that you're better at speaking foreign languages after a drink

New research claims that you're better at speaking foreign languages after a drink

Learning a new language is an extremely difficult thing, or at least it always was for me. This is coming from someone who tried and gave up several times while attempting to learn a second language, so take that with a pinch of salt. Still, I think we can all agree there are a number of underlying principles that differ language to language, making the learning process exceedingly complicated at times.

From the people I know who had the skill and patience to dedicate themselves to trying out another country's form of communication, there are a few things that come up regularly enough that I imagine many budding multilingual scholars out there will relate to. Namely, it gets a lot easier to speak your new language when you've had a few to drink.

The study was conducted by researchers from Maastricht University, in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and King's College London. The researchers behind the study state their aim as follows:

"A popular belief is that alcohol improves the ability to speak in a foreign language. The effect of acute alcohol consumption on perceived foreign language performance and actual foreign language performance in foreign language learners has not been investigated.

"The aim of the current study was to test the effects of acute alcohol consumption on self-rated and observer-rated verbal foreign language performance in participants who have recently learned this language."

They organised 60 native German speakers, who were all studying in Maastricht and learning Dutch, to take part in the study. Each participant received a drink, with half of the group getting alcoholic drinks, and the other half receiving non-alcoholic drinks. The size of each drink was varied to cater for different body sizes, but the general rule was that a 70 kg male was given around one pint of 5% beer.

As half the group began to get marginally intoxicated, they were invited to speak Dutch. These conversations were audio-recorded and played to two native Dutch speakers, who graded each person on various factors. They discovered that participants who drank alcohol performed "significantly better" than those who didn't. The most improved area, strangely enough, was pronunciation.

However, the amount of alcohol didn't affect how the participants graded their own skills, which is surprising given the burst of confidence drinking can bring some people. Dr Jessica Werthman, who was one of the researchers in Maastricht, said that the results were down to "the anxiety-reducing effect of alcohol", though she did warn that further study was required.

Another Dutch researcher, Dr Fritz Renner, had another criticism of the study:

"It is important to point out that participants in this study consumed a low dose of alcohol. Higher levels of alcohol consumption might not have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language."

He's got a point there. Once you're properly hammered, you may think you're speaking perfectly, while the native speakers around you look on, baffled by the poor vocabulary and slurred speech. Still, this test goes to show that a drink or two may make all the difference when it comes to practising your new language, so might not be the worst idea (in moderation).