Before Your Next French Exam, Take a Shot

Alcohol loosens up the jawbone and gets the foreign languages flowing.

By Ethan L. Johns
October 23, 2017

A wise person once told this writer that there is a closely guarded secret to success when it comes to interviewing in a non-native language. What is it, you ask? Tie up that tie (no Windsor, please), lace up those shoes, knock one back, then prepare to speak some Spanish (or Dutch, or Mandarin, or whatever). As it turns out, this advice—questionable though it may be—is now partially backed by science.

We say partially because it goes without saying that the use of alcohol in professional settings is almost always a bad idea (unless, of course, you cook for a living and are using it to deglaze a pan). But the linguistic aspect—that your ability to speak a foreign language actually improves with the inhibition-lowering effects of alcohol—was recently verified by a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

During the study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King’s College London, 50 native German speakers studying Dutch at Maastricht University were given either a low dose of alcohol or a nonalcoholic control beverage. They were then asked to speak, read and write in Dutch. Their skills were then graded by two native Dutch speakers.

The researchers found that the tipsy participants performed better in their evaluations, most notably in terms of pronunciation. The researchers concluded that the long-held belief that booze helps you to better speak a foreign language is somewhat true, albeit with some qualifications.

"It is important to point out that participants in this study consumed a low dose of alcohol,” said Dr. Fritz Renner, one of the researchers conducting the study. “Higher levels of alcohol consumption might not have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language."

So while we cannot condone the consumption of alcohol before interviews or exams, we can recommend that the next time you find yourself at a party in a foreign land, enjoy that cocktail responsibly and let the words flow freely.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns