Want to Learn a New Language? Go to Sleep!

Do you remember your high school French lessons? All those hours sat learning how to buy fruit, ask where the cinema is, and describe your family members — what if someone told you you could learn it in your sleep?

Psychologists in Switzerland carried out a study with 60 German-speaking students, who were asked to learn some new Dutch words. Half the students were then allowed to sleep with a tape of the words playing, while the other half stayed awake to listen to the words. When the students were tested on the new vocabulary, the group that had slept remembered the words much better.

Okay, it’s not a case of throwing on a language learning tape before you go to sleep and waking up miraculously fluent, but the results of the study are another addition to the growing pile of evidence that sleep helps us to take in new information, such as a new language, and commit it to our long-term memory. You still have to make an effort, but it may make language learning — and other learning, for that matter — that much easier!

Sleep has been believed to help form memories for a long time, but last month scientists came a step closer to figuring out exactly what happens when we sleep, when researchers from the US and China found that sleeping mice formed connections in their brains after learning new skills.

Of course, all these findings could just be to do with sleep deprivation making our memories hazy, but in any case, they reinforce that old adage: “Sleep on it!”

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