Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sleeping on it

Recent research from Switzerland has brought evidence that we may be able to learn words from a secondary language in our sleep. More specifically, during non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep, or what most of us experience in the first few hours of the night, we learn almost as quickly as our unconscious infancy.

The study involved two groups of German participants and a Dutch vocabulary. The first group was instructed to review their new vocabulary and then immediately catch some Z's. The other group was instructed to stay awake. Both listened to an audio playback of the vocabulary they studied, plus some new words. Within a few hours, researchers tested both groups on those Dutch words. Indeed, the group that listened to the words in their sleep did better on both spelling and pronunciation.

A current study is being conducted to further research whether or not it still applies when a subject has never been exposed to the words in an awake state. So far, calculations of sleep-specific frontal brain wave activity in the first three hours of an adult's sleep have proven that we understand what is unfamiliar to an extent, but excel in what we have already been introduced to.

In addition to language and word recognition, the brain can also identify odors, sounds, and other accomplices to memories. In some nontraditional therapy methods, this study demonstrates what some patients use on a regular basis to access their suppressed consciousness. Some neuroscientists predict that sleep teaching will be the future's study method of language students.

How do you think we could use sleep teaching to learn sign language? Fall asleep while watching a video of new vocabulary? Or some other method?

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