You can swot up on vocabulary in your sleep – but only if you don’t confuse your brain in the process.
Researchers funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation have invited people to their sleep lab for a Dutch language course.
You can’t learn new things in your sleep. Nevertheless, if you’ve been learning vocabulary in a foreign language, it can be highly effective to hear these words played over again while you sleep, as was already shown a year ago by researchers from the university of Zurich and Fribourg. Their new study, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, demonstrates that this only works if the brain can do its job undisturbed.
Translating doesn’t help
The researchers got 27 German-speaking test subjects to learn Dutch words, then let them sleep for three hours in the sleep lab. The scientists already knew that playing back this vocabulary softly would help the test subjects to remember the words. Now they wanted to give them more information while they were asleep. The research team, led by biopsychologist Björn Rasch from the University of Fribourg, wanted to enhance the technique’s impact by supplying German translations after the Dutch words. They also wanted to achieve the opposite – in other words, they hoped that supplying incorrect translations would make the test subjects forget what they’d learnt.
“To our surprise, we were neither able to enhance their memory, nor able to make them forget what they’d learnt”, says Rasch. He was able to confirm the original findings – that simply cueing the Dutch vocabulary during sleep enabled the subjects to recall about ten percent more words.