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From my own experience, drinking alcohol has both positive and negative effects to the ability of speaking a second language. On the one hand, it facilitates the process, mainly because one gets more relaxed and less inhibited (thus caring less about making mistakes, as long as one gets the message across). On the other hand, alcohol affects muscle control, makes reasoning slower, impacts memory and so on. These are all extremely important abilities when speaking a second language, so the intoxication makes it harder.

So, my question is: have the effects of alcohol on second language speaking been studied scientifically? What are the main results?

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By the way, had you seen this appropriate blog? Also, I am tempted to answer yes, I have studied this extensively over wodka with my Polish in-laws. –  Mark Beadles May 8 '12 at 22:06
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Perhaps this is also neurolinguistics-related? I mean, the alcohol does have effect on the brain, I think. –  Alenanno May 8 '12 at 22:15
    
@Alenanno You're right. I added another tag to the question. –  Otavio Macedo May 8 '12 at 22:34

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

Not surprisingly I suppose, this has indeed been studied.

Guiora, Beit-Hallahmi, Brannon, Dull, and Scovel in "The Effects of Experimentally Induced Changes in Ego States on Pronunciation Ability in a Second Language: An Exploratory Study"l [PDF] give a somewhat tongue-in-cheek but nevertheless thoroughly scholarly exploration.

Their conclusion is that drinking alcohol induces a state of empathy with speakers of L2, which in turn leads to improved pronunciation of L2. The proposed mechanism according to Hudson and Bruckman [PDF] is thus:

The language ego permeability hypothesis argues that adults have difficulty learning foreign languages, because they are reluctant to give up control over selfpresentation. Giving up this control is necessary to learning a new language.

...and in turn, alcohol helps one give up such control.

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Guiora told me that the two-drink level was optimum. Any more and mechanical performance and memory suffer; any less and normal social anxieties constrain performance and learning. –  jlawler May 8 '12 at 22:59
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@jlawler: Ah, so you know this author? I read exactly the same thing, possibly in a newspaper article about this very study (I don't remember—perhaps I was drunk). –  Cerberus May 9 '12 at 4:05
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Yeah, he's been retired much longer than me, but we used to be colleagues in linguistics at the University of Michigan. I believe he moved to Israel many years ago; haven't seen him in years. –  jlawler May 9 '12 at 15:15

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