Straight Talk Meets Pillow Talk: The Guide to Learning a Language While You Sleep
It’s a time to relax and recharge.
It’s a time to dream about showing up in your high school math class wearing nothing but an octopus and a smile.
But can it also be a time to learn a language?
- The Controversy Surrounding Sleep Learning
- Why Try Learning a Language While You Sleep?
- 4 Resources to Learn a Language While You Sleep
The Controversy Surrounding Sleep Learning
The idea of sleep learning, also called hypnopedia, first became popular in the early 20th century and really took off with Soviet studies of the field in the 1960s.
In fact, a 1965 study suggested that it could be possible to learn during sleep and noted that language learning could be one possible application.
Nowadays, however, the idea of sleep learning is much more contested. Sleep learning is frequently considered a pseudoscience since there’s insufficient evidence to support that it works. While sleep is clearly linked to learning, learning in your sleep may or may not be possible.
A study published in Nature clarifies that sleep is important for memory consolidation and is therefore useful for language learning. A study from the International Journal of Psychophysiology also indicates a correlation between efficient language learning and quality sleep. Needless to say, if you’re learning a language or doing anything else that’s mentally taxing, you need your sleep.
Perhaps the best recent evidence that you might be able to improve your language skills by listening in your sleep comes from a Swiss study in which students were asked to listen to new vocabulary words in a foreign language. Half the group then went to sleep while the words were played back. The other half stayed awake and listened to the words. The group that slept remembered more of the vocabulary words. It’s difficult to say if these results are indicative of actual sleep learning, the ability of sleep to solidify recent learning or just the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, but it certainly is an interesting study to take into consideration.
In summation, the verdict is still out on whether sleep learning is possible. But regardless of the existing research, it’s still worth a try for a few key reasons.
Why Try Learning a Language While You Sleep?
One of the best reasons to try learning a language while you sleep is that you won’t be wasting time. Even if you learn nothing, you would have been sleeping regardless, so you won’t have wasted any valuable time that you could have used for something else.
Additionally, sleep learning might improve vocabulary retention. While the science isn’t there to support this yet, some studies do hint at the possibility. Any little leg up helps! This is all the more reason to use sleep learning as a supplement to another language learning resource.
Try devising a combo between sleep study and a vocab builder like Memrise or a virtual immersion program like FluentU.
You can even try playing FluentU videos while you sleep, then revisit them in the morning. Watching the videos again with your eyes (instead of just your ears), you may find them familiar. But this time, you can take advantage of all the program’s learning tools. For instance, if you find a word you don’t know, you can click on it for a definition, example sentences and video clips where it shows up.
You can also add words to your flashcard decks, practice vocabulary with personalized quizzes and download transcripts for review on the go. Speaking of on the go, you can also get FluentU on the iOS or Android app for more convenient studying—whether you’re awake for it or not.
Finally, exposure to your target language is beneficial. Even if you don’t learn anything in your sleep, you might wake up for a few minutes during the night and make the most of those moments by learning more vocabulary or improving your pronunciation.
4 Resources to Learn a Language While You Sleep
1. Eko Languages
Eko Languages is a YouTube channel that focuses primarily on helping people learn world languages. Videos include general lessons like vocabulary lists and pronunciation guides, but there are also a number of sleep learning videos.
Each video uses a tranquil tone that will help ease you into slumber. Then, a word is spoken in English and repeated three times in the target language. If you happen to be staring at your screen, you’ll also see the word appear in both English and your target language. Videos focus primarily on common words and phrases.
Language lessons available for aspiring sleep learners cover Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Russian and Spanish.
There are also sleep learning videos to teach English to native speakers of a variety of languages.
Additionally, there are sleep learning videos to help Spanish speakers learn German, Italian, Russian and more.
Finally, while they’re not marketed as “sleep learning,” their videos that contain a lot of vocabulary may also work well for sleep learning since the main focus is listening.
2. Sleep Learning
Sleep Learning is a YouTube channel dedicated to (you guessed it) sleep learning.
There are general education topics to help you learn things like the periodic table and world capitals, but let’s face facts: the language learning videos are the real highlight.
And there are plenty of language learning options! There are multi-video playlists to help you learn English, French, Japanese and Spanish. There are also single videos for German, Italian, Korean and Portuguese.
In each language video, a phrase is spoken in English and then repeated three times in the target language. Meanwhile, the video shows a scenic picture of a place where the target language is spoken.
3. Sleep Learning
This name might seem familiar. There’s a good reason for that: it’s the exact same name as the previous resource on this list. However, it’s an entirely different resource offering entirely different options.
This Sleep Learning offers purchasable sleep learning CDs and MP3 downloads. It makes the ambitious claim that it can help you learn a new language in 30 days. To do this, the programs aim to teach you foreign language sounds and words until you can put them together into sentences. The goal of each program is to teach you the 850 most common words in your target language, equipping you with the most essential vocabulary.
It also offers programs to teach English speakers over 50 languages, including common ones like Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and more. However, sleep learning programs are also available for less common languages like Basque, Galician, Hmong, Khmer, Macedonian, Marathi, Yiddish and more.
Sleep Learning also offers English language learning programs for speakers of over 50 languages.
SleepyLanguages offers apps that aim to help you memorize vocabulary in your sleep.
Unlike many programs, SleepyLanguages doesn’t focus on just playing words while you sleep. Instead, it encourages you to study vocabulary with the app for just three minutes a day. Then, the words you studied are played back to you during the night to reinforce the material. Since the program does include some study, your language skills are likely to improve whether or not the sleep learning aspect helps you, so this is a good option for skeptical learners interested in dabbling in sleep learning without making the full leap.
Daily lessons and exams will also help keep you moving forward in your language learning journey.
SleepyLanguages offers 11 language options including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
Whether or not sleep learning actually works, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. Maybe you’ll at least have cool foreign language dreams—as long as there are no octopuses involved!