Can sleep learning help boost vocabulary and language skills?
Is it possible to learn a new language while you sleep? Sleep-learning, also called “hypnopedia”, has long been the subject of debate and still raises many questions: Does it really work? Is it effective? How can you prove it? In this article we will explore this fascinating topic a bit further and introduce an app that will allow you to learn vocabulary while you are asleep.
1. Sleep Learning – Research
Much research has been done on the subject*. While some studies have been inconclusive, others have shown positive results regarding sleep-learning. As is the case of the study conducted by the Northwestern University of Illinois in 2009.
In this study, a group of volunteers were asked to associate memories with certain sounds. These sounds were later played back during the night while the volunteers slept. It was shown that the memories were solidified during that period.
Even more interesting are the results of the research undertaken at the University of Zurich, which show that sleep-learning can help you learn a new language!
What was the purpose of the study? Researchers wanted to test whether or not exposing someone to vocabulary from a foreign language while they slept would enhance vocabulary acquisition.
How was the research conducted? A group of 60 volunteers, all native German speakers, were asked to learn pairs of Dutch and German words at 10 p.m. Then the group was separated in two:
- The first group was kept awake and listened to an audio playback of the vocabulary
- The other group went to sleep and was also exposed to the audio playback while asleep.
At 2 a.m., the group of sleeping volunteers was woken up and the two groups were reunited. Both groups were then tested on the vocabulary they had learned and listened to.
Differences – There was a difference between the two groups. In fact, the group that had been exposed to the audio playback while asleep could remember the German translations better than the group who had stayed awake. The audio playback did not have any significant effect on those who had stayed up all night.
Brain Activity – One could assume that sleep deprivation would explain such results. To counter these arguments, researchers also monitored EEG recordings to measure the brain activity of the volunteers while they were asleep. These recordings showed that the part of the brain responsible for integrating sensory information and language processing was active during the audio playback, in the form of ‘theta brain waves’. These ‘waves’ are associated with memory encoding while awake.
Bottom line – This research not only suggests that sleep-learning works and can help you learn a new language, it also shows that to be efficient, the vocabulary played while you sleep should have been studied previously. Hence, sleep learning a language is best for recalling and memorizing new, casual or technical words learned over the course of the day, week or year.
2. Sleep Learning – Apps
Based on these recent findings, the team from the Vocabulary Trainer (VT) mobile app launched a new “sleep-learning” function enabling users to memorize the new vocabulary they have learned, while they sleep.
Available in over 30 languages, the free app is one of the most popular language learning apps. VT is constantly improving and strives to offer new educational tools and functions to its users. The new sleep-learning feature was designed according to the recommendations of experts and researchers in the field.
How does the sleep-learning feature work?
The NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep phase starts 20-30 minutes after falling asleep and lasts approximately 90 minutes. This period corresponds to the deep and dreamless sleep we experience at night.
It is during this sleep phase that an audio recording will play the 60 words learned most recently.
According to your preferences you can
- adjust the time at which the audio should start playing
- set the duration of the playback
- determine vocabulary related to the course you wish to listen to
- choose suitable background music
- set the right volume of the recording
No signs of interference with sleep quality were noted during the latest research. However, noise sensitivity varies from one person to another and sleep-learning may not be suitable for everyone.
To help further their research on sleep-learning, the results of each session undertaken by a user will be transferred to the University of Zurich as anonymous usage data.
3. Useful Resources on Sleep Learning
- Cerebral Cortex
- Nature Neuroscience
- Medical Daily
- Trends in Cognitive Science
- Frontiers in Neurology
- Psychology Today
Do you also want to learn a new language while you sleep? Follow these links:
Author: Post written by Jeanne Le Bihan
Further blog reading: Tips to improve vocabulary