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. What 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.
So what exactly might be happening when you’re drinking that helps you speak foreign languages better? The fact is that, in our state of drunken debauchery, we lower our affective filter. In other words, we tend to lose many of our inhibitions and current 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 making many more grammatical and pronunciation errors, and perhaps you are 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!
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.