It’s well documented that drinking alcohol can loosen your tongue and inhibitions, but one unexpected side effect is that your beer courage may give you the superpower to relax and speak a foreign language better, according to a new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
We know, we know.
Consuming alcohol seems to run contrary to the skills needed to conjugate your French verbs correctly. As anyone who has woken up to a headache of bad decisions post-drinking knows, chugging one too many glasses of beer inhibits your executive functioning, inhibitory control, and working memory.
This cognitive inhibition is the key to the hypothesis Fritz Renner of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues were testing when they recruited native German-speaking students with comparable levels of proficiency in Dutch. The researchers theorized that alcohol would inflate bilingual speakers’ perception of their own ability to speak Dutch. Drinking a vodka cocktail would help the students think they were speaking Dutch better, while not actually improving their ability to speak Dutch.
Or so the researchers thought…
Study: 1-2 drinks can actually improve your ability to speak a foreign language
But to the researchers’ surprise, the boost of Smirnoff Red did not make a significant difference in the students’ self-rating of their language skills. Their confidence levels were not overblown with the addition of a drink.
The drink did, however, make a difference in their ability to be understood in Dutch by others.
Native Dutch speakers scored the students who drank higher than the ones who were given water, noting that the drinkers had better pronunciation and overall Dutch language skills.
The key is relaxation
The drink of alcohol did not appear to inflate students’ confidence of their abilities, but the researchers speculate that moderate consumption of alcohol may have helped them relax.
“Alcohol is known for its tension-reducing properties,” the study states. “It is possible that a low to moderate dose of alcohol reduces language anxiety and therefore increases both one’s foreign language proficiency and one’s subjective foreign language evaluation.”
It’s important to note that there’s a difference between the moderate alcohol consumption the researchers tested and overdoing it. Drinking a glass of champagne may help you be less self-conscious about your vowels, but drinking four of those won’t stop your speech from slurring, regardless of how many Spanish classes you took in high school. Drink wisely.