As It Happens

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

A new study suggests that booze helps people to better communicate in foreign languages — but that doesn't mean you should get wasted on your next trip overseas.
A little bit of beer can go a long way to helping people communicate in a foreign language, a new study has found. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)
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Story transcript

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

"We know that nerves makes us worse at speaking a foreign language and alcohol reduces your nervousness around people," Inge Kersbergen, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"So that could explain why we speak better in a foreign language if we've had a bit of 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 her colleagues tested the effects of booze on language skills on a group of 50 native German speakers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands near Germany's border.

Then they were all asked to carry out casual, two-minute conversations with an interviewer in Dutch.

Some were given a small glass of alcohol, while others were given water. The amount of alcohol was adjusted to each person's body weight to make sure the effect was even. A 150-lb man would get just under a pint of beer.

Afterwards, native Dutch speakers evaluated the conversations and gave higher marks to the Germans who imbibed beforehand.

Inge Kersbergen suspects 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 breaks, the way it comes it is not as fluent than if you're more confident about it. This is why we think this effect works, but we didn't test the explanation," Kersbergen said.

"It's possible that this would be with anything that reduces your nerves rather than something specific to alcohol."

Don't overdo it 

Despite the results, Kersbergen doesn't suggest getting tanked the next time you want to talk to someone in another language. 

The researchers haven't tested what happens to a person's language skills if they keep drinking, but she suspects there are diminishing returns.

"When you drink to the extent that you slur your own words, your own words in your own language, than you wouldn't expect to speak fliuidly in a foreign language," she said. 

The findings were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

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