It’s a time to relax.
It’s a time to recharge.
It’s a time to dream about showing up in your high school math class wearing nothing but an octopus and a smile.
But can it also be a time to learn a language?
Well, the brain is a weird thing, and a lot of mystery still surrounds both sleep and the learning process. In spite of hundreds of years of study, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered.
If you’re looking to learn a new language fast or make your brain learn faster, chances are you’ve fantasized about learning in your sleep. On the surface, it seems like an easy way to learn a language more efficiently—if it actually works, that is.
The premise of sleep learning relies heavily on audio resources like audio programs for language learning and audio language courses. After all, you’re certainly unlikely to read or write in your sleep, and if you practice speaking a foreign language while you’re sleeping, you’ll probably just wake up and annoy everyone else in the house. So listening it is.
But the question remains: can you really learn a language in your sleep? We’ll examine that question in more depth, consider the benefits of attempting sleep learning and share some sleep learning resources.
Good News, Sleepyhead! You Might Be Able to Learn a Language While You Sleep!
The Controversy Surrounding Sleep Learning
The idea of sleep learning, also called hypnopedia, first became popular in the early 20th century and really took off with Soviet studies of the field in the 1960s.
In fact, a 1965 study suggested that it could be possible to learn during sleep and noted that language learning could be one possible application.
Nowadays, however, the idea of sleep learning is much more contested. Sleep learning is frequently considered a pseudoscience since there’s insufficient evidence to support that it works. While sleep is clearly linked to learning, learning in your sleep may or may not be possible.
A study published in Nature clarifies that sleep is important for memory consolidation and is therefore useful for language learning. A study from the International Journal of Psychophysiology also indicates a correlation between efficient language learning and quality sleep. Needless to say, if you’re learning a language or doing anything else that’s mentally taxing, you need your sleep.
Perhaps the best recent evidence that you might be able to improve your language skills by listening in your sleep comes from a Swiss study in which students were asked to listen to new vocabulary words in a foreign language. Half the group then went to sleep while the words were played back. The other half stayed awake and listened to the words. The group that slept remembered more of the vocabulary words. It’s difficult to say if these results are indicative of actual sleep learning, the ability of sleep to solidify recent learning or just the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, but it certainly is an interesting study to take into consideration.
In summation, the verdict is still out on whether sleep learning is possible. But regardless of the existing research, it’s still worth a try for a few key reasons.
Why Try Learning a Language While You Sleep?
One of the best reasons to try learning a language while you sleep is that you won’t be wasting time. Even if you learn nothing, you would have been sleeping regardless, so you won’t have wasted any valuable time that you could have used for something else.
Additionally, sleep learning might improve vocabulary retention. While the science isn’t there to support this yet, some studies do hint at the possibility. Any little leg up helps! This is all the more reason to use sleep learning as a supplement to a language learning resource like FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, news, vlogs and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons that can make for relaxing, pre-bedtime vocabulary enhancers.
Finally, exposure to your target language is beneficial. Even if you don’t learn anything in your sleep, you might wake up for a few minutes during the night and make the most of those moments by learning more vocabulary or improving your pronunciation.
4 Resources to Learn a Language While You Sleep
Eko Languages is a YouTube channel that focuses primarily on helping people learn world languages. Videos include general lessons like vocabulary lists and pronunciation guides, but there are also a number of sleep learning videos.
Each video uses a tranquil tone that will help ease you into slumber. Then, a word is spoken in English and repeated three times in the target language. If you happen to be staring at your screen, you’ll also see the word appear in both English and your target language. Videos focus primarily on common words and phrases.
There are also sleep learning videos to teach English to native speakers of a variety of languages.
Finally, while they’re not marketed as “sleep learning,” their videos that contain a lot of vocabulary may also work well for sleep learning since the main focus is listening.
Sleep Learning is a YouTube channel dedicated to (you guessed it) sleep learning.
And there are plenty of language learning options! There are multi-video playlists to help you learn English, French, Japanese and Spanish. There are also single videos for German, Italian, Korean and Portuguese.
In each language video, a phrase is spoken in English and then repeated three times in the target language. Meanwhile, the video shows a scenic picture of a place where the target language is spoken.
This name might seem familiar. There’s a good reason for that: it’s the exact same name as the previous resource on this list. However, it’s an entirely different resource offering entirely different options.
This Sleep Learning offers purchasable sleep learning CDs and MP3 downloads. It makes the ambitious claim that it can help you learn a new language in 30 days. To do this, the programs aim to teach you foreign language sounds and words until you can put them together into sentences. The goal of each program is to teach you the 850 most common words in your target language, equipping you with the most essential vocabulary.
It also offers programs to teach English speakers over 50 languages, including common ones like Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and more. However, sleep learning programs are also available for less common languages like Basque, Galician, Hmong, Khmer, Macedonian, Marathi, Yiddish and more.
Sleep Learning also offers English language learning programs for speakers of over 50 languages.
SleepyLanguages offers apps that aim to help you memorize vocabulary in your sleep.
Unlike many programs, SleepyLanguages doesn’t focus on just playing words while you sleep. Instead, it encourages you to study vocabulary with the app for just three minutes a day. Then, the words you studied are played back to you during the night to reinforce the material. Since the program does include some study, your language skills are likely to improve whether or not the sleep learning aspect helps you, so this is a good option for skeptical learners interested in dabbling in sleep learning without making the full leap.
Daily lessons and exams will also help keep you moving forward in your language learning journey.
SleepyLanguages offers 11 language options including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
Whether or not sleep learning actually works, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. Maybe you’ll at least have cool foreign language dreams—as long as there are no octopuses involved!
And One More Thing…
Looking for other relaxing ways to learn languages? Then you’ll love learning with FluentU!
With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos, like movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
Under the Vocab and Dialogue tabs, you’ll find words and phrases from the video and a complete interactive transcript.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Quiz Mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.