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Drink up! Alcohol can help you improve your foreign language skills

Consuming a low dose of alcohol can help you improve your pronunciation of a foreign language, says a new study.

fitness Updated: Oct 19, 2017 14:34 IST
Alcohol increases self-confidence and reduces social anxiety, both of which might be expected to improve language ability.
Alcohol increases self-confidence and reduces social anxiety, both of which might be expected to improve language ability.(Shutterstock)

Alcohol is known to impair cognitive and motor functions as well as ‘executive functions,’ which include the ability to remember and inhibit inappropriate behaviours, are particularly sensitive to the acute effects of alcohol. But according to a new research, excess alcohol might 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. The researchers tested the effects of a low dose of alcohol on participants’ 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 randomised 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 percent 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. “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. This provides some support for the lay belief (among bilingual speakers) that a low dose of alcohol can improve their ability to speak a second language,” said Dr Inge Kersbergen, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society.

Dr Fritz Renner who was one of the researchers who conducted the study at Maastricht University, shared, “It is important to point out 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.” The study was published in Journal of Psychopharmacology.

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