A new study may indicate that the more you drink, the worse you're gonna be at language learning. From Science Daily:
[A]lcohol damage occurs in gradations: the more alcohol consumed, the greater the damage. … Alcohol has an impact on both gray and white matter, with the greatest impact affecting parts of the brain called the frontal and temporal lobes. "These brain areas are critical to learning new information…," said [Catherine Brawn Fortier, a neuropsychologist and researcher at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School as well as corresponding author for the study]. … "Severe reductions in temporal brain regions most often result in impairments in memory and language function… ."Learning and memory and language function? Golly gee, those sure sound like they'd be important for language learning!
As someone who's always been a non-drinker, I wonder how much of an advantage this gave me relative to, say, those fellow exchange students who would regularly get trashed on the weekends. To the extent I progressed in a target language more than them, I had always chalked it up to me getting more exposure (less partying with expats, more hanging with locals), but this study seems to indicate that any difference would be at least partially attributable to me retaining a higher portion of the exposure I was getting thanks to my teetotaling ways.
I'd be curious as to whether this is a trend among polyglots. Do we tend to abstain from or drink little alcohol?
I'd also be curious to know whether alcohol is a negative from the first drop or whether some threshold needs to be crossed. The study seems focused primarily on alcoholics, but is the person who has a glass of wine with dinner every day also going to take a hit to the brain? It's unclear.
Assuming the apparent implications of the study hold up to scrutiny, what is clear is the message to language learners (or learners of anything else for that matter): lay off the juice.