How to Learn a New language: Drinking Alcohol Could Improve Pronunciation

Speaking a foreign language is often intimidating, and pronouncing new sounds can be especially difficult. Don't worry—alcohol is here to help. A recently released study finds that a little drinking could help those struggling to perfect their second language.

Related: Envy or Jealousy? Five Common Word Pairs We Use Incorrectly—A Lot

Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers at the University of Liverpool, King's College London, and Maastricht University in the Netherlands, wanted to see if alcohol could assist with language skills. For their experiment, they enlisted 50 German speakers who had recently learned Dutch. Some of the participants were given alcohol while the control group received a beverage that didn't contain any. The quantities varied by each person’s weight, but the serving equated to roughly a pint of beer containing five percent alcohol.

GettyImages-102395684 Friends chat in a bar Ramallah, West Bank. A new study shows that drinking could help improve with pronouncing unfamiliar words while learning a new language. Warrick Page/Getty Images

After drinking, everyone spoke in Dutch. The chatter was recorded and later reviewed by native Dutch speakers. The subjects also ranked their own language abilities. People who drank alcohol before speaking Dutch were rated better at speaking the foreign language, particularly when it came to pronunciation. Alcohol didn’t, however, make people believe their skills were any better.

Jessica Werthmann, psychologist at Maastricht University and study co-author, said the reason alcohol helps with the nuances of nailing a new language is likely the same reason that “liquid courage” helps you chat up a new romantic interest: lowered inhibitions. But Werthmann urges caution about leaping to any conclusions. “One possible mechanism could be the anxiety-reducing effect of alcohol. But more research is needed to test this,” she said in a statement.

Anyone wanting to add a bottle of wine to their Duolingo study sessions should note that very little alcohol might be enough to makes our powers of speech better able to tussle with a foreign language. “Participants in this study consumed a low dose of alcohol,” Fritz Renner, psychologist at Maastricht University and study co-author, said in a statement.

Learning a new language may not be easy, but science has shown it's worth the effort. Studies reveal that bilingual people have improved cognitive and sensory performance, which helps with overall learning. Once you know a second language, studies have shown, it’s easier to pick up a third.

Of course sometimes pronouncing certain words may still elude you. Linguist Eva Reinisch at Loyola Marymount University, told science news site Phys.org, "Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language may, despite years of practice, continue to pronounce certain words incorrectly."

For those particularly challenging sounds, a pint of beer may just help.

Join the Discussion