Drinking a beer can help you speak a foreign language, study finds


Transcript of the story

A little liquid courage helps people communicate better in foreign languages, according to a new study.

“We know that nervousness prevents us from speaking a foreign language and that alcohol reduces your nervousness around people,” said Inge Kersbergen, a researcher at the University of Liverpool. As it happens host Carol Off.

“So that might explain why we speak better in a foreign language if we’ve had a little alcohol.”

When you’re nervous about speaking a foreign language, you take a long time, take longer breaks.– Inge Kersbergen, University of Liverpool

Kersbergen and his colleagues tested the effects of alcohol on language skills on a group of 50 native German speakers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands near the German border.

Afterwards, they were all invited to conduct informal two-minute conversations with an interviewer in Dutch.

Some received a small glass of alcohol, while others received water. The amount of alcohol was adjusted for each person’s body weight to ensure the effect was equal. A 150 pound man would get just under a pint of beer.

Then the native Dutch speakers rated the conversations and gave higher marks to the Germans who had been drinking beforehand.

Inge Kersbergen suspects that a small amount of alcohol relaxes people’s nerves enough to improve their foreign language skills, but that a large amount of alcohol would have a more detrimental effect. (@Inge_Kersbergen/Twitter)

“When you’re nervous about speaking a foreign language, you take a long time, take longer pauses, the way it comes isn’t as smooth as if you’re more confident. That’s why we think this effect works, but we haven’t tested the explanation,” Kersbergen said.

“It’s possible it’s with anything that lowers your nerves rather than something specific to alcohol.”

Don’t overdo it

Despite the results, Kersbergen isn’t suggesting getting dumped the next time you want to talk to someone in another language.

Researchers haven’t tested what happens to a person’s language skills if they continue drinking, but they suspect yields go down.

“When you drink to the point of insulting your own words, your own words in your own language, you wouldn’t expect to speak fluently in a foreign language,” she said.

The conclusions were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.


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