Lonely Planet Writer

Alcohol improves people's ability to speak a foreign language

If you’ve ever found yourself confidently showing off your language skills to the locals while socialising on holidays, you may be interested in a study which contends that alcohol improves people’s ability to speak a foreign language. Only a low dose, mind you, equivalent to just under one pint of 5% beer for a 70kg male, because after more than that, you’ll probably be mangling your own language, never mind a second one.

A study shows that alcohol improves people’s ability to speak a foreign language. Image: Stefano Oppo

Researchers tested the effects of alcohol on 50 native German speakers at Maastricht University, who had recently learned to speak, read and write in Dutch. They were interested in the subject because while it’s well-established that ‘executive functions,’ like the ability to remember and pay attention are particularly sensitive to the acute effects of alcohol, many bilingual speakers believe that it can actually improve their ability to speak a second language.

Drinks and food friends group in Lisbon Portugal beer
A study shows that alcohol improves people’s ability to speak a foreign language. Image by Alexandra Ribeiro / EyeEm

The participants were randomised to consume drinks that either contained a low dose of alcohol or none at all, before they chatted with a researcher in Dutch for a few minutes. The chat was recorded and participants’ foreign language skills were subsequently rated by two native Dutch speakers, who didn’t know if the participant had consumed alcohol or not. The researchers found that participants who had consumed alcohol had significantly better ratings for their Dutch language skills and specifically had better pronunciation, compared to those who had not consumed alcohol.

A study shows that alcohol improves people’s ability to speak a foreign language. Image: asiseeit

The study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, and conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King’s College London. One of the researchers, Dr Jessica Werthmann, said, “we need to be cautious about the implications of these results until we know more about what causes the observed results. One possible mechanism could be the anxiety-reducing effect of alcohol. But more research is needed to test this.”

So the suggestion seems to be that if you want to show off your ability to speak like a native while on holidays, have a drink first to help lubricate your language skills.