The idea of learning something in your sleep, sounds like the type of sarcastic remark a frustrated secondary school teacher would make to a dozing student. However, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the theory that it is possible to learn and snooze. For students who facing learning hundreds of Chinese characters to reach a confident level of language fluency, the opportunity to learn Chinese in your sleep is one to be grasped.
The relationship between sleep, learning, and memory is extremely complex, and one that scientists, researchers, educators and cognitive psychologists are working to better understand. Nevertheless, one point which is widely accepted is that good quality sleep is essential for learning, consolidation of memory and general good health.
Research studies conducted with humans and animals clearly indicate what any student who has attended a day of lectures without sleeping the previous night will tell you – the quantity and quality of sleep has a profound impact on our ability to learn. A sleep-deprived student is unable to remain attentive and learn efficiently. Furthermore, scientists are beginning to understand how the brain process information during sleep. The sleeping brain replays the day’s experiences, moving them from the hippocampus to regions across the brain. By moving the day’s experience to different areas of the brain, the brain creates stronger links between them, making it easier for the learner to recall vocabulary, characters and language structure.
For people learning Chinese, or any language, sleep consolidates new memories, reinforcing the student’s grasp of the language. A good night’s sleep after a long day of studying Chinese will reinforce newly acquired language skills, and make it easier to remember and apply those skills the next day.
Language students call also learn in their sleep by listening to vocabulary and language as they rest.
A study published in the journal Current Biology details how researchers in Germany fabricated vocabulary and played these words to research participants as they slept. The researchers used fabricated vocabulary because if they used an actual language there would be the possibility that the participants could interpret the words’ meanings. With an entirely ‘new language’ which had no link to any other languages, it would not be possible for participants to make educated guess about the meanings of the words.
One of the words used in the research was “guga”, which meant elephant. While the participants slept, audio was played repeating the fabricated vocabulary and the translation of those words. Later, when the participants awoke, they were given multiple-choice tests to determine if they now knew the meanings of those fabricated words.
The results from this study indicate that yes, the sleeping brain is able to establish links between words in two languages. More research is being done to find the most effective way of learning during sleep. There are many more variables which need to be determined to optimize sleep learning. For example;
How many words should you listen to during one sleep period? For how long should you listen? Will listening too long disrupt your natural sleep process? Is it best to learn individual words, or is learning full sentences more productive? How loud should the audio be?
While research confirms that learning new words in your sleep is possible, reviewing vocabulary you’ve already learnt is definitely more effective. Students are advised to use sleep learning in the days after studying a new set of vocabulary. Reinforce your new vocabulary by listening to it as you sleep and you’ll find you are quickly able to recall those words and phrases in conversation.
To get you started with learning Chinese in your sleep, we’ve created podcast reviews of Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. As you’re studying these levels be sure to spend one or two nights a week listening to these podcasts as you sleep, and you’ll find you progress even more quickly.