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Can Sleep Help You Learn a New Language

· Article

Can Sleep Help You Learn a New Language

If you are planning a vacation abroad this summer, you may choose to brush up on your French, German or Spanish. To supercharge your cramming process, research suggests more Zzzs. Sleep seems to help carve foreign language words into your memory, according to a study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.


Scientists at the University of Zurich in Switzerland showed 68 native German speakers a series of Dutch words and their German translations at 10 p.m. one night. After studying the words for an hour, half of the group stayed up listening to audio recordings of the Dutch words until 2 a.m. The other half went to sleep in the lab. While they slept, the scientists played them the same audio recordings as the other group.


At 2 a.m, the researchers woke the sleepers and tested how many Dutch words the people in both groups were able to recall. The participants who had slept recalled more words than those who had stayed awake later.


More research is needed to clarify if the people learned from the recordings during sleep, or whether sleep simply solidified the memories of the words they had previously learned. Research published in Psychological Reviews seems to support the latter possibility, as sleep plays a role in strengthening memories.


In another study published in the journal Cognitive Psychology, the authors showed sleeping on new information helps you absorb it. In their experiments, scientists taught 48 college students words from a fictional language. They didn’t fully grasp certain rules of this language until after they got a good night’s sleep.


“Teachers have long suspected that proper rest is critical for successful learning,” study co-author Kathy Rastle, a professor of cognitive psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, says in a statement. “Our research provides some experimental support for this notion.”


So, make sure you’re adding sleep to the list of things to do before your next big trip or bilingual meeting. And, check out the sleep habits of these successful people. How would these habits change the way you work?



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