Alcohol improves your language skills, according to science

The novelist and poet Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson once famously wrote that “wine is bottled poetry”.

Could a pint of beer turn you into a linguist?

Now, scientists may have found some truth to the declaration, after new research has emerged confirming that alcohol can actually improve our language skills.

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 a low dose of alcohol “may have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language.”

The researchers tested the effects of a low dose of alcohol on 50 native German speakers, who were students enrolled at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands and had recently learned to speak, read, and write in Dutch.

Participants were randomly chosen to consume either a low dose of alcohol — around the equivalent of a pint of 5% beer — or a control beverage that contained no alcohol, before they chatted with an experimenter in Dutch for a few minutes.

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.

Dr Inge Kersbergen, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, who was involved in the study, said that a alcohol consumption actively improves “the pronunciation of a foreign language in people who recently learned that language”.

Alcohol impairs “executive functions” — which include memory, concentration, and inhibitions. Given that these functions are important when speaking a second (non-native) language, one might expect that alcohol would impair the ability to speak a second language.

But in lowering our inhibitions, drinking also boosts our self-confidence and reduces social anxiety, both of which are key components when interacting with another person. While alcohol ultimately impairs cognitive functions, drinking a modest amount can give people the ability to express themselves more freely, making it easier to fine-tune an accent.

However, the researchers stressed that the results would not be the same if the dosage was increased. Dr Fritz Renner who was one of the researchers who conducted the study, believed it was important to note 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,” Dr Renner added.

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