A Bit Of Alcohol Can Help You Learn A New Language
A new study has come out showing that bilingual people can improve their second-language skills if a bit of alcohol is involved. They were also eager to point out that larger doses of alcohol could actually impair this ability.
As some of us already know, alcohol is an inhibitor substance. It affects the brain’s capacity of paying attention, to remember stuff, to properly coordinate the body’s movements, and inhibits the part of the brain that allows us to discern between what is appropriate and what isn’t. Given these many ‘qualities’ alcohol has on our brains, it would seem a bit counterintuitive to say that it can help us speak in a foreign language – even if the quantities are small.
A group of researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University, and King’s College London, were able to show that alcohol in small doses can, in fact, make you better at speaking in tongues (pun intended).
The scientists tested the effects of what would low doses of alcohol have on participants’ self-rated and observer-rated ability to talk in a foreign language. The study was performed on 50 students, all native-German speakers from the Maastricht University, and who all recently began learning Dutch.
Now, the participants were randomly assigned to two groups. One of them was the control group that received no alcohol, while the in the second one the participants received a small dose – which took into account the body weight of each individual participant. In other words, every person in that group received the equivalent to a 460 ml (just under a pint) of 5% beer for a 70kg (154lb) male. After that, every participant was invited to start a dialogue with a Dutch native-speaker for several minutes.
These conversations were recorded and later analyzed by two other native Dutch speakers who didn’t know who among the participants was under the influence or not. The participants were also asked to rate their own language skills.
Overall, the team reports that the participants who were in the alcohol group did significantly better when it came to the observer ratings given to them for their Dutch skills. What stands out the most here is their improved pronunciation as compared to the control group. The self-ratings don’t reflect the same thing, however.
“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,” says paper co-author Dr Inge Kersbergen, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society.
“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”
The team, however, notes that the participants consumed only a low dose of alcohol and that higher levels “might not have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language.”
Dr Fritz Renner who was one of the researchers who conducted the study at Maastricht University, said: “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.”
“We need to be cautious about the implications of these results until we know more about what causes the observed results,” says Dr Jessica Werthmann from Maastricht University, the paper’s corresponding author.