Do We Speak Foreign Languages Better When Drunk?

Modified on by Amanda Moritz-Saladino



Alcohol improves my foreign language

It is common to hear foreign language learners say that they are able to speak more fluently when in a state of inebriation. They seem to identify a direct relationship between alcohol consumption and their ability to speak a certain language.

It makes you wonder: is there any scientific evidence is there to back this up?

One thing we do know is that drunken states are often actually detrimental to one’s learning and memory abilities by inhibiting the proper functioning of the hippocampus, an integral part of the brain’s memory system. On the other hand, some types of seemingly debilitating states have been shown to increase learning and memory despite their seemingly illusory effects. For example, people under deep hypnosis have been shown to perform better on learning tasks than people who have undergone lesser types of hypnosis.

Why do we Speak Foreign Languages Better When Drunk?

So what exactly might be happening when you’re drinking that helps you speak foreign languages better? Well, in our state of drunken debauchery, we lower our affective filter. In other words, we tend to lose many of our inhibitions and worries. As a result of this decrease in inhibitions, we also tend to worry less about the grammatical rules and possible mistakes we can incur in and we adopt a more relaxed attitude towards verbal communication, thereby resulting in a more fluid stream of words out of our mouths.

But don’t go running for a bottle of Jack Daniels as your language-improvement solution just yet! There are two major downsides to this strategy. The first is that despite your increased confidence and fluidity, you are also likely to make many more grammatical and pronunciation errors, and perhaps even ingraining bad habits that will persist back into sobriety.

The second downside is that any improvements in confidence/fluidity that may be experienced while drunk are unfortunately short-lived. If you rely on alcohol as your primary facilitator of communication, than you might end up resorting to alcoholism to master your language of preference! Not a good plan.

The important lesson to learn here is that the seemingly positive effects of alcohol on foreign language fluency are not due to alcohol at all. They are due to confidence in your skills. If you build confidence by practicing speaking and use a confidence-based learning system such as Brainscape, you’ll experience much better improvements in your language skills than you would from a bottle of vodka or whiskey.



Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit brainscape.com or find us on the App Store .

10 comments

Erik Vidmar 7 years ago

i have a question for anyone reading this:

How is it possible that my uncle spoke fluent german(we are slovenian-east of italy) when he was drunk although he never used or learnt it(with exception of his girlfrend failing german 10 times).

Alex Green 4 years ago

he'd obviously learnt it through previous exposure, or was speaking gibberish, or this anecdote is nonsense xD

learn chinese in china 7 years ago

The reaon is that after drinking something people do not care that much about what they are saying and it helps to break the ice among them and establish the communication among them 

Amanda Moritz 7 years ago

that's definitely one reason. It's very true that people are "shy" about their language speaking abilities. They might surprise themselves if they just take a leap and speak, whether with the help of alcohol or not. check out this article on why speaking helps you better understand the language you're learning http://www.brainscape.com/b...

Drunken Interpreter? 6 years ago

That's okay for speaking but I actually understand spanish better when I'm drunk then I do when I'm sober? What's up with that?

Livethelanguage China 6 years ago

The problem when speaking drunk is that it is easy to pick up bad habits, especially when it comes to pronunication. Being self confident and sober is the best way, just it isnt always that easy. www.livethelanguage.cn

Linguist 5 years ago

It's bullshit to make a blanket statement that your pronunciation worsens with intoxication. How about some real research instead of anecdotal evidence? "The results of this study are interpreted as confirming the hypothesis that the
ingestion of small amounts of alcohol, under certain circumstances, does lead to increased ability to authentically pronounce a second language." http://deepblue.lib.umich.e...

Ines Hijazi 5 years ago

thank you for this truly impartial and insightful article!!

Michelle Sager 3 years ago

I think that you are probably right about there being less inhibition which allow for a more fluid flow of language output from the language centers in the cortex, but I suspect that this is a subcortical effect and specifically related to decreased gating of executive functioning and that the person having this experience is not actually aware of feeling less inhibited. It reminds me of the kind of disinhibition that you can get when you treat Catatonia with a benzodiazepine which have similar effects to alcohol.

Jason 2 years ago

All of this confidence is true but i think alcohol influences the brain some how. Im currently applying to Pharmacy School to get my doctorate and i do not drink often but when i have a couple drinks my spanish doesnt increase much. When i get drunk im fluent with native speakers. I speak spanish well sober but when i listen to music drunk the words slow down and i think in terms of spanish, not by translating it to english. I think more research needs to be done on the amount of alcohol consumption and the mechanism that it could play nuerologically. They keep pointing to confidence cause everyone knows it boosts confidence, but i think there is more to it. They are neglecting the science because alcohol is otherwise frowned upon as a sunstance. Im not suggesting that it is healthy but i do think there can be positive benifits of action in the brain.

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