“I speak Spanish fluently… after a few drinks”

You´ve probably heard this old joke more than once, and maybe you have even cracked it yourself when asked how your online Spanish classes were coming along. The joke is comical because it conjures up the image of an otherwise self-conscious Spanish learner who transforms into an eloquent, inspiring orator after a couple of cocktails.

Drinking speaking Spanish
The Nectar of Language?

Well, cheers to you! As it happens, there is actually some science to support the theory. Back in 2017, German and Dutch researchers devised an experiment that included 50 students studying at Maastricht University, located in the Netherlands close to the border with Germany.  All of the subjects were native German speakers who spoke Dutch as a foreign language. They all reported that they were at least occasional drinkers.

The researchers based the experiment around an informal, one-to-one conversation between a native Dutch speaker and one of the university students. They gave half the subjects water to drink, while the other half received an alcoholic beverage. The amount of alcohol administered depended on the person’s weight, but the average was just under a pint of beer for someone weighing 150 pounds (68 kilos).  Tbat wasn’t enough alcohol to get anyone drunk, but it turns out that it was enough to get the tongues a-wagging.

When native Dutch speakers analyzed the recordings later, they rated the alcohol drinkers as having better fluency and pronunciation than the water group. But, they did not notice an improvement in the use of grammar and vocabulary, so smoother didn’t mean better.

Researchers published their results in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.  The gist of the findings was that it was indeed possible that low-to-moderate doses of alcohol “reduces language anxiety” and “increases proficiency”. They concluded: “This might enable foreign language speakers to speak more fluently in the foreign language after drinking a small amount of alcohol”.

One more piece of anecdotal evidence vindicated by science.


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