Can alcohol help you learn another language?

When learning something, you normally think about pens, paper, workbooks, guides, teachers… The usual stuff. Do you think about alcohol? According to Time Magazine, alcohol helps you speak a foreign language better. I might need to investigate this! For academic reasons, obviously. Time Magazine are not the only ones who think so too. Over the past week I have seen quite a few blogs and articles related to the idea of alcohol and learning.

The article in Time Magazine does advise its readers to drink in moderation rather than getting drunk to learn a language! This I can agree with, after about 8 drinks, only your best friends will understand you, regardless of what language you’re trying to speak. But, is this something that could work? Could alcohol in moderation help someone with language? The Journal of Psychopharmacology has published its findings *, and it’s an interesting read!

The experiment:

The experiment involved 50 native German speakers learning Dutch and the results did show that those with some a controlled dose of alcohol spoke with more fluency than those who had no alcohol in their system. Each person had a two-minute conversation in Dutch with the interviewer. Beforehand some were given the equivalent of a pint of beer, others were given just water. This is a low amount of alcohol… We can assume if they were given a few more pints, the results would have been different. But this is an interesting experiment!

The participants then had to rate their conversation to see what they thought. To see if they thought they had performed well. Those who consumed alcohol thought they had performed worse than they did. We all know that after a drink or two we become a bit more confident in ourselves. Could this have been the case? A bit of liquid courage?

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Was it liquid courage?

All 50 of the participants were studying Dutch, so all knew the language, but maybe did not have the confidence to speak it with fluency. But obviously knew a decent amount to converse. Not exactly turning up to Chinese for Beginners with a pint in one hand and expecting to whizz through the class. With the alcohol their worries about making mistakes went away and could just speak, unknowing how far they fluency could take them.

It seems that a drink could have beneficial effects on the pronunciation, rather than the learning. We do not advise you to hit the pub before a lecture! But if it is a case of feeling a bit nervous to speak another language in front of others, then maybe a drink will help you relax. What I have always found helpful is social events. At university the societies put on so many events for students to attend. At French society events you’ll find native and learners conversing in French. The natives don’t mind if you make a few mistakes, as long as you speak with confidence! And when its a classic ‘Wine and Cheese’ night, you know you’ll do just fine!


Bon courage!