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Sleep is good for learning languages

It may not always be wrong to sleep on one’s job—certainly not if the job involves learning a new language, says a study conducted in Germany. When we hear words we have just learned in our sleep we tend to understand and better remember their meanings.

“Anyone can easily adopt and use our method every day of their lives,” says study director and biopsychologist Björn Rasch. The results of the study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex were achieved in controlled laboratory conditions. Whether it works equally well in everyday situations is yet to be seen.

In the trial two groups of volunteers learned a pair of Dutch and German words each at 10 in the night. Following this, one of the groups went to bed and as they slept the words were played back to them softly enough to not wake them up. The other group stayed awake and listened to the same words.

The scientists woke up the sleeping volunteers at two in the morning and tested everyone’s knowledge of the new words. They found that the ‘sleeping’ group outperformed the group that had stayed awake.

Schreiner and Rasch believe that the study further reinforces the belief that sleep supports memory, probably because the sleeping brain spontaneously activates previously learned subject matter.

“You can only successfully activate words that you have learned before you go to sleep. Playing back words you don’t know while you’re asleep has no effect,” says Schreiner.

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