What is the most effective way of enhancing the speed at which you can learn a foreign language?

A customer of mine who very occasionally shares a sip of Italian wine with me after he has deposited items of Italian origin (but not I hasten to add great antiquarian value) in the Admiral storage facility.   And in so doing he has occasionally been known to say, on taking a sip, “In vino veritas” which I am sure you will know from your Latin at school (or can work out even if you didn’t study Latin at school) means “In wine there is truth.”

A profound saying, if ever I heard one.

Anyway, this saying has existed in Western civilisation for around 3000 years, give or take a few centuries, and is used to suggest that a person under the influence of alcohol is more likely to speak their hidden thoughts and desires than someone who is stone cold sober.

A more boring version of the phrase runs, “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas“, i.e., “In wine there is truth, in water there is health.”

Anyway, apparently this phrase has spread to the Netherlands.  In Dutch, we have the phrase “De wijn in het lijf, het hart in de mond. Een dronken mond spreekt ‘s harten grond” (“Wine in the body, heart in the mouth. A drunken mouth speaks the heart’s meaning”).

Now, of course, in that part of Europe they do take their linguistic research most seriously, for it seems that they have set up at Maastricht University a research department to see what other effects wine can have.

Of course, you may think you know perfectly well what effect imbibing wine has on a person, but the Dutch are sticklers for research and they really, really did feel that they had to establish the effects of wine under proper and complete scientific conditions.

“You mean that we have all heard the story that a person who drinks a lot of wine eventually slumps in his or her chair and starts talking gibberish, but the Dutch wanted to prove it scientifically,” I suggested.

“Not exactly,” said my customer.  “You see in the Netherlands there is a story that circulates quite widely that having a drink or two helps non-Dutch speakers learn Dutch.”

“I imagine the research proving that theory to be true was conducted by a wine importer,” I said.

“Quite possibly,” I was told, “but nevertheless a group of researchers wanted to see if it were true.  So they got a group of native German speakers who spoke no Dutch, plied them with a glass or two of wine, and then taught them some of the researchers’ native tongue.

“Then they asked their volunteers to read a few sentences of Dutch, and the undisputed result was that the volunteers who had had a drink, all spoke better Dutch than those who had not.”

“So what was the outcome of this finding?”

“A massive increase in the number of volunteers for research programmes at Maastricht University,” said my customer.  “Plus multiple applications from university research teams across Europe to see if the same outcomes can be shown with other languages and nationalities.  It is a very important point to establish.”

“This all sounds a bit like something from the Institute of Certain Things,” I said.

“Quite possibly,” said my customer.  “Mind you at the University of Pennsylvania they run a seven hour course in existential despair – a course designed to show that despair is real and that it exists.  The students have to read a set text in silence for around four hours on a topic such as the end of a relationship, the struggle to know who you really are, the end of one’s life and so on.”

“So what is the experiment?” I asked.

“There are three groups,” I was told.  One has no special set up procedure and just reads the text and has a discussion.  In the second group each student can drink as much red wine as he/she wishes during the process, and the third also listens to the 6pm news bulletin in full.

“And what are the results?” said I.

“The no special set-up group end up miserable, the drinking group end up drunk and miserable, while the 6pm news group have to be stopped from ending it all.”

“And what is the purpose of this research?” I asked.

“To increase the number of British students applying to do research in Dutch universities,” my customer replied, And then, with a flourish, he pulled out two miniatures of Italian red, and following their consumption we found we had both rather forgotten the question.

Which only goes to show.