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In Your Dreams: Can You Learn a Foreign Language in Your Sleep? Posted by on Aug 6, 2014 in Archived Posts

A “good night’s sleep” seems to be the solution to many things. What if I told you that “sleeping on it” could be a new strategy for language learning? Sounds like a dream, right?

Maybe not. Researchers in Switzerland dug a little deeper into the “learn while sleep” myth, and the results were quite surprising. In the study, native German speaking participants were introduced to a series of Dutch-German word pairs late at night. The participants were then divided into two groups: one group stayed awake and listened to a recording of the word pairs (along with some new word pairs not previously introduced), while the other group listened to the playback as they caught some zzz’s.

After four hours, once the latter group woke from their slumber, researchers administered a test of the Dutch vocabulary to all participants. Here’s where the surprise comes in: the participants who “slept on it” performed considerably better than their counterparts who stayed awake.

Brilliant, right? Just pop in some tapes while you sleep and you’ll be fluent in no time! Actually… it doesn’t quite work like that. The study highlights an important precursor for success—this act of “verbal cueing” only works when learners have actively studied the words beforehand:

“Re-exposure to Dutch words during sleep improved later memory for the German translation of the cued words when compared with uncued words.”

Essentially, new foreign words won’t magically appear in your vocabulary after hearing them in your sleep. You actually have to put in the effort in your conscious state first. But hey, if it helps with retention, that’s a win in my book. The only thing better than a good night’s sleep? Improving your language skills while you do it.

Have you tried listening to another language in your sleep? Have you found it helpful?

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About the Author: meaghan

Meaghan is the Marketing Communications Manager at Transparent Language. She speaks enough French and Spanish to survive, and remembers enough Hausa to say "Hello my name is Meaghan, I'm studying Hausa." (But sadly that's it).


  1. Maegen Fariss:

    I used to study for Bible quizzing in my sleep, and had it playing in the background when doing chores or school work as well, and I made it to regionals.
    I haven’t tried it with language learning yet but now I’ll download kids books I’ve worked over before to listen to now 😀

  2. Zein:

    The research is interesting indeed. It reminds of an episode from a cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory, where Dexter builds a machine to teach him French during his sleep for his French exam the next day. The machine experiences a malfunction and repeats ‘Omelet du Fromage’ all night long. The cartoon was made back in the early 2000s

  3. Annamarie Spies:

    I’ve found that revising new words just before I go to sleep, definitely helps with retention. I studied Italian and Ancient Greek, and most of the time learnt new vocabulary just before going to bed. The next morning I could remember most of the words and their meanings, whereas I would forget more words and their meanings when I tried to learn them during other times of the day.

  4. Lidia:

    En Russie ses années 80-90 du siècle dernier il y avait une multitude des écoles proposant un enseignement de langues étrangères “sous hypnose” ou dans un semi-sommeil. L’absence de tout élément extérieur perturbant contribue certainement à une meilleure qualité de mémorisation…

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