Booze Can Improve Your Foreign Language Skills, Says New Study

By Isabel Chan, November 15, 2017

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Struggling to learn Mandarin, Japanese or Korean? Maybe it’s time to wine down and pour yourself a glass.

With a reputation for wrecking your brain and impairing cognitive development, theoretically, drinking alcohol should worsen your language skills. Luckily for language students, researchers have found that moderate alcohol consumption may improve your foreign language skills, according to the latest study from Maastricht University in Netherlands. 

In the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Fritz Renner from Maastricht University wrote in his new paper:

“Contrary to what would be expected based on theory, it is a widely held belief among bilingual speakers that alcohol consumption improves foreign language fluency, as is evident in anecdotal evidence from numerous discussions in social and popular media.”

According to the British Psychological Society, to test this out, Fritz Runner recruited 50 German psychology undergraduate students at Maastricht University. Because Maastricht is close to the German border, the school attracts many German students. In order to attend Maastricht University in Netherlands, German students must pass a Dutch Language Exam.

Runner had the students drink either a placebo of 250ml cold water or 250 ml of bitter lemon and vodka, which induced a moderate blood alcohol concentration of around 0.04 percent. The exact amount of vodka varied depending on gender and body weight. 

READ MORE: Stanford Students Brew Beer Using 5,000-Year-Old Recipe from China

After the alcohol was absorbed into the bloodstream, which would be around 15 minutes later, students were instructed to give a two minute speech in Dutch arguing for or against animal testing. The students were judged by two native Dutch speakers who graded their language performance based on overall quality, understandability, vocabulary, pronunciation, word selection and fluency. The two native Dutch speakers were not told whether the students drank water or vodka. The students themselves were also asked to self rate their language performance. Afterwards, they were tested on their reasoning and mathematical skills by completing an arithmetic task.

Ganbei for better Chinese?
Ganbei to better Chinese?

Renner and his colleagues hypothesized that the students who drank alcohol would rate themselves as having better Dutch language skills. However, they would still receive poor ratings from the native speakers compared to the students who drank water.

However, contrary to their prediction, the alcohol drinkers’ self ratings were no different from the water drinkers. There was also no difference in their arithmetic scores. However, those who drank vodka were given higher overall scores from the Dutch native speakers, particularly for pronunciation.

So how does drink vodka help you become a better foreign language speaker? Some suggest that because people may feel nervous when speaking a foreign language, a little bit of alcohol might help reduce anxiety and enhance performance.

The amount of alcohol does play a factor, however. As noted in their paper, the amount of alcohol used in this study equated to one or two drinks. Any more than two drinks will cause slurring.

Renner and his fellow researchers also agreed that this study may need further investigation:

“The findings of this study need replication in future studies, testing participants learning languages other than Dutch and varying the amount of alcohol that is consumed to further explore the effects of acute alcohol consumption on foreign language proficiency.” 

At least Renner shouldn’t have a hard time recruiting students to drink in his study.

Looking to brush up on that Putonghua?  Hope you didn't miss out on that insane Single's Day sale for a lifetime supply of Baijiu at RMB11,111!

[Image from Paixin]

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