Can drinking alcohol make you better at speaking a foreign language?

24/07/2019 | Rebecca Twose

It is a well-known fact that alcohol can be great at increasing confidence and lowering inhibitions in social situations, but can drinking alcohol improve your language skills? Apparently, the answer is yes! According to a study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology, drinking an acute amount of alcohol can have a positive impact on a person’s foreign language skills, specifically in regards to their pronunciation.

Can drinking alcohol make you better at speaking a foreign language?

Dutch courage

The study included 50 German participants who had all recently learnt to speak Dutch. Half of the participants were randomly chosen to receive a low dose of alcohol, and the other half were given water. All of the participants then took part in a standardised discussion in Dutch, where they were required to put their language skills to the test. The discussions were recorded and then rated by two native Dutch speakers who didn’t know which participants had drank alcohol or water. The participants were also asked to rate their own performance after the discussion.

The participants who had consumed alcohol had significantly better observer-ratings for their Dutch language, specifically for their pronunciation, compared with those who did not consume alcohol. However, the alcohol had no effect on how well the participants rated their own Dutch language skills. The conclusion from the study was that an acute amount of alcohol may have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of people who have recently learnt that language.

In small doses

That being said, drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can actually have a negative effect on language skills leading to slurred speech and an increase in grammatical and pronunciation errors. Brainscape suggests that it isn’t the alcohol that leads to better language skills, but rather the increased confidence that alcohol invokes and its ability to calm your nerves. Therefore, working on improving your confidence levels by practising speaking the foreign language would in-theory have the same effect as drinking a small amount of alcohol.

It is probably wise to stay off the wine before a language exam, but you never know, a small bit of Dutch courage might not do any harm if you need to calm your nerves!