Dutch courage—Alcohol improves foreign language skills

October 18, 2017, University of Liverpool
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King's College London, shows that bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second language is improved after they have consumed a low dose of alcohol.

It is well-established that alcohol impairs cognitive and motor functions. 'Executive functions', which include the ability to remember, pay attention, and inhibit inappropriate behaviours, are particularly sensitive to the acute effects of alcohol.

Given that executive functions are important when speaking a second (non-native) language, one might expect that alcohol would impair the ability to speak a second language. On the other hand, alcohol increases self-confidence and reduces social anxiety, both of which might be expected to improve language ability when interacting with another person.

Furthermore, many bilingual speakers believe that it can improve their ability to speak a second language. The aim of this experimental study was to test these competing predictions for the first time.

Language performance

The researchers tested the effects of a low dose of alcohol on ' self-rated and observer-rated ability to converse in Dutch. Participants were 50 native German speakers who were studying at a Dutch University (Maastricht) and had recently learned to speak, read and write in Dutch.

Participants were randomized to consume either a low dose of alcohol or a control beverage that contained no alcohol, before they chatted with an experimenter in Dutch for a few minutes. The exact dose of alcohol varied depending on participants' body weight, but it was equivalent to just under a pint (460ml) of 5% beer, for a 70kg male.

The chat was audio-recorded and participants' foreign language skills were subsequently rated by two native Dutch speakers who did not know if the participant had consumed alcohol or not (observer-ratings). Participants also rated their own Dutch language skills during the conversation (self-ratings).

The researchers found that participants who had consumed alcohol had significantly better observer-ratings for their Dutch language, specifically better pronunciation, compared to those who had not consumed alcohol. However, alcohol had no effect on self-ratings of Dutch language skills.

Implications and Limitations

Dr Inge Kersbergen, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, who was involved in the study, said: "Our study shows that acute alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a in people who recently learned that language. This provides some support for the lay belief (among ) that a low dose of alcohol can improve their ability to speak a second language"

Dr Fritz Renner who was one of the researchers who conducted the study at Maastricht University, said: "It is important to point out that participants in this study consumed a low dose of alcohol. Higher levels of might not have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign ."

Dr Jessica Werthmann who was one of the researchers who conducted the study at Maastricht University, 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 of . But more research is needed to test this."

Explore further: The dangers of driving after restricted sleep and moderate alcohol intake

More information: Fritz Renner et al, Dutch courage? Effects of acute alcohol consumption on self-ratings and observer ratings of foreign language skills, Journal of Psychopharmacology (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0269881117735687

Related Stories

The dangers of driving after restricted sleep and moderate alcohol intake

July 19, 2017
In a recent study, combining moderate alcohol consumption (within legal limits for driving) and moderate sleep restriction led to greater drowsiness and increased deficits in attention, compared with either sleep restriction ...

Women drinkers are more diverse than men

April 5, 2017
People drink alcohol for a number of reasons. This study focused on understanding why people drink and the consequences of their drinking. First, researchers identified "clusters" of drinkers in New Zealand, based on how ...

Moderate alcohol consumption has no effect on fecundability

September 2, 2016
(HealthDay)—For women trying to conceive, moderate alcohol consumption has no impact of fertility, according to a study published online Aug. 30 in The BMJ.

One-third of people believe alcohol is heart-healthy

August 7, 2015
(HealthDay)—Approximately one-third of the public believes alcohol is heart-healthy, according to a study published in the Aug. 15 issue of The American Journal of Cardiology.

Our brain benefits from an overlap in grammar when learning a foreign language

June 29, 2016
Researchers from Nijmegen have for the first time captured images of the brain during the initial hours and days of learning a new language. They use an artificial language with real structures to show how new linguistic ...

New research shows late bilinguals are sensitive to unique aspects of second language

March 17, 2017
Imagine coming across a sentence in English that reads like this: "Mary apple eats her delicious." For most native-English speakers, the sentence would likely strike you as odd because it doesn't seem to be structured in ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system

December 13, 2018
Most teens get stressed out by their families from time to time, but whether they bottle those emotions up or put a positive spin on things may affect certain processes in the body, including blood pressure and how immune ...

How bullying affects the brain

December 12, 2018
New research from King's College London identifies a possible mechanism that shows how bullying may influence the structure of the adolescent brain, suggesting the effects of constantly being bullied are more than just psychological.

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood

December 12, 2018
Increasing one's level of physical activity may be an effective way to boost one's mood, according to a new study from a team including scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2017
It goes a little something like this

0 pints: hesitant and simple
1 - 3 pints: God among men
4 - 6 pints: slurring... a lot
7+ pints: All language, including English, has disappeared
4 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2017
"significantly" better means what exactly? The threshold for statistical significance is too low to make it worth applying to real-life situations.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 18, 2017
This is what most drunks think.. of how almost everything that he does is better after 3-4 drinks; but in the real world, it's best that no one try doing anything while under the influence of alcohol.

Do we want a surgeon that stone cold sober or one that has a couple of scotch in them to take the edge off.
not rated yet Oct 18, 2017
Alcohol also loosens the grip that socially mediated morals, norms and conventions have on a person thus making it easier to explore areas that would otherwise be inhibited and this may include changing one's language conventions including accent and even the language itself ~ an English person can feel 'French', for instance, much easier in the same way one can feel like a rock star and sing more freely in, for instance, a Karaoke bar.

Those who have self observed the effect of alcohol will have no trouble relating what is written above to the article, but why didn't the authors of the article notice this for themselves?
1 / 5 (1) Oct 20, 2017
What they really meant is after a little alcohol everything seemed better. Kind of like that ugly girl that suddenly seemed rather pleasant.
Bob Osaka
not rated yet Oct 23, 2017
Can affirm this study anecdotally, speaking Russian in Moscow seemed much easier after a few vodkas. Facial muscles and mouth muscles seemed to relax, inhibitions of mistaken utterances disappeared, similarities between English and Russian words appeared with slight pronunciation differences. However, it is best to avoid the all-too-common Russian practice of drinking to oblivion, the guttural sounds of prehistoric humans can only be used for the most basic of communications.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.