The holidays are a time for drinking and traveling, and whether you need help communicating in a foreign country or want to prove to your in-laws that studying abroad was worth it, alcohol may be the answer. Drinking booze can actually facilitate foreign language fluency and brush up on that accent, a new study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests, further blurring the lines of bilingual and buzzed.
“Our study shows that acute alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language in people who recently learned that language,” study coauthor Inge Kersbergen of the University of Liverpool told The Independent.
Though there is some evidence that alcohol can decrease foreign language anxiety, the question of whether alcohol helps with fluency has not been studied extensively. Preliminary research suggests that drinking may actually improve memory, but there’s also data that indicates that even moderate consumption can cause brains to atrophy (presumably not improving memory).
For the current study, Kersbergen and colleagues randomly served 50 German college students who had recently learned Dutch either water or water with enough alcohol to generate approximately a 0.04 percent blood alcohol concentration. (As a result, the amount of alcohol varied by gender and body weight). Then, participants were asked to engage in conversations with native Dutch speakers who were not aware which speakers were under the influence. These sessions were recorded and assessed by two native Dutch speakers, who were also unaware of who had been drinking. Drinkers received significantly higher observer ratings across the board, particularly when it came to pronunciation. Interestingly, when asked about their own performances, those who had imbibed did not rate themselves any differently than their sober colleagues. Perhaps if they drank more, such liquid confidence would’ve come through.
The findings, though appealing for those of us who enjoy sip margaritas and over-pronounce “pico de gallo”, come with a grain of salt. For one, the sample size was small and composed of college students, who are in their primes both linguistically and alcoholically. Likewise, they had recently learned Dutch, so there’s no way to know if these findings extend to other languages or to longer gaps in learning. And besides, nobody in the study was literally drunk—0.04 percent blood alcohol roughly translates to “tipsy”.
“Higher levels of alcohol consumption might not have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language” coauthor Fritz Renner of Maastricht University told The Independent. So have a glass of wine while practicing your French, but don’t get wasted. A good dad is a sober dad—in any language.