Experiment: what is the effect of drinking alcohol on speaking Dutch?

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It’s sometimes used as an excuse to drink and party, but is it really true?

Does alcohol make you speak a different language better?

Dutch courage!

In English there’s even an expression for it ‘Dutch courage’. If you think about it, it’s not really a compliment to the Dutch. It means that you need to drink before you have the courage to do something.

Similar to this, is the Dutch word ‘spraakwater’. This ‘speaking water’ helps you to speak more fluently.  But does alcohol help?

In this video we did an ‘experiment’. Of course this wasn’t really scientific. The goal of our experiment was primarily entertainment (just a funny video).

And I believe that if you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation. Excessive alcohol consumption has no advantages and will not help you speak a second language.

But … there is some scientific evidence about the relationship between learning a language and drinking alcohol.


There’s not been much research done on this subject. One of the first big research projects was done in 2017. (1)

The aim of this study was to test the effects of alcohol consumption on verbal foreign language performance in participants who had recently learned this language.

What was the real experiment like?

Our experiment was just for fun. But this one was really scientific.

Native German speakers who had recently learned Dutch were the subject of this research. Each German speaker had a two-minute conversation with an interviewer in Dutch.  

Before speaking in Dutch, one group drank alcohol and the other group didn’t. How much? It varied, because it was dependent on the weight of the person, but it was around the same as two small beers.

The conversations were recorded and then reviewed by native Dutch speakers who weren’t aware who had consumed alcohol. Also, the German participants were asked to review their own performances.

Yes, it worked!

This research gave a positive result!           

The groups who drank before having a conversation had better observer ratings than the ones which hadn’t drunk. Pronunciation especially was improved.

This first research on the subject led researchers to the conclusion that the consumption of alcohol may have a beneficial effect on the pronunciation of a foreign language.

It’s not that simple

So yes, to some extent, drinking is good for speaking more fluently. But it’s not that simple. One of the researchers, Dr Fritz Renner, claimed that it’s important to note that the study is about a low dose of alcohol and that drinking more alcohol may not have had the same positive effect.

My ideas

I agree with the conclusion of the researcher.

In my opinion, communication and speaking in Dutch has everything to do with people. You speak as a person to someone else. Within the social situation you are in at that moment.

And it’s known that alcohol has the effect that it reduces fear; you feel less inhibited in social situations. You are less afraid to make mistakes and just go for it.

And that is the key in learning to speak Dutch.

You shouldn’t worry too much about making mistakes, just try to do your best. The alcohol might make you think a little less about how to say something, which makes it sound a little smoother. That is the environment we try to create in our summer and winter schools.

You might be thinking about moving or going to the Netherlands. But are you allowed to drink?

When are you allowed to drink in the Netherlands?

For a few years the minimum age for drinking, that is all alcoholic drinks, has been 18. So you can buy and drink alcohol (no matter if it is beer or strong liquor) if you are 18 years or older.

By identifying yourself, you show how old you are when you buy the drink. Here sometimes there are some awkward situations

You really think I’m 17?!

I spoke to some foreigners who had experienced awkward situations buying alcohol in the supermarket. What happened?

When the age for drinking light alcohol went from 16 to 18, supermarkets became stricter. And the policy was to ask everyone who looked under 25 (!) for their ID. 

As you probably know, it’s not always easy to tell if someone is 18 or older. By asking customers under the age of 25 for ID, there is a buffer. And this way minors are prevented from buying alcohol (or tobacco).

I heard from students from the Summer School who were in their thirties who had been asked to show their ID. And unfortunately they hadn’t taken it to the store. So it was quite a shock that after, for some, almost 20 years of buying alcohol, now it was forbidden.

Do the Dutch drink a lot?

According to a survey from WHO the Dutch drink an average of 8.7 litres of pure alcohol, slightly more than the European average of 8.6 litres. So you could say that the Netherlands belongs to the middle group in Europe.

And what do the Dutch drink, and what are typically Dutch drinks?

4 Typical Dutch drinks

  1. Biertje

Biertje? With this one simple word you can order a beer or ask a friend if he wants to join you to drink a beer. The two best known Dutch beers are Heineken and Amstel. And yes, it’s very common for Dutch people to drink these. They are the most popular kinds of pale lager. But that’s not all there is to say about beer in the Netherlands.

  1. Jenever

You are probably familiar with ‘gin’. What you maybe didn’t know is that this was originally a Dutch word. It comes from ‘jenever’. Jenever is a clear, malted grain-based spirit and it is made from a berry. Jenever is usually still produced in the Netherlands. You drink it straight out of a ‘tulip glass’, Dutch people never mix it. But be warned: it’s pretty strong.

  1. Oranjebitter

Another typical Dutch drink, and one that is especially known for its colour: orange. Dutch people usually drink it on King’s Day, together with a lot of beers, when they celebrate the king’s  birthday.

On this day everyone is usually dressed in orange, so oranjebitter fits right in.

  1. Dropshot

Here it is again, your favourite Dutch food: Drop. And you’re not surprised that we made a drink out of it? Good news! This drink sort of tastes the same!

The drink has a salty yet sweet taste and it’s definitely worth a try. As the name suggests, this drink is typically drunk as a shot.


Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School