Dutch courage: alcohol improves language skills, according to study

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. Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ Fæ

There may be something to the term 'Dutch courage'. A study by Maastricht University, the University of Liverpool, and King's College London found that consuming a low dose of alcohol, improves bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second language. 

For the study, conducted at and funded by the University of Maastricht, researchers tested 50 native German speakers' ability to speak Dutch after drinking a low dose of alcohol. The participants are studying at the University of Maastricht and recently learned to speak, read and write Dutch. 

Some of the participants were given a drink containing a low dose of alcohol. The dose varied depending on the participant's body weight, but was equivalent to 460 milliliters of 5 percent beer for a 70 kilograms male. Other participants were given a control drink, with no alcohol. Afterwards, the participants chatted with a researcher in Dutch. The conversation was recorded, and two native Dutch speakers - who did not know whether the participant consumed alcohol or not - were asked to rate it. The participants themselves were also asked to rate their language skills. 

The researchers found that participants who had consumed alcohol got "significantly better" ratings from the native Dutch speakers, specifically on their pronunciation, compared to those who did not consume alcohol. The alcohol had no effect on the participants' ratings of their own skills. 

The researchers were hesitant to comment on why exactly alcohol seems to improve second language skills. "One possible mechanism could be the anxiety-reducing effect of alcohol. But more research is needed to test this", researcher Dr Jessica Werthmann said in a press release on the Maastricht University's website. "We need to be cautious about the implications of these results until we know what causes the observed results."

Another researcher, Dr Fritz Renner, emphasized that the participants only consumed a low dose of alcohol. "Higher levels of alcohol consumption might not have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language."

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