A new study suggests you can learn language while you sleep.
Researchers from Switzerland’s University of Bern say they discovered people were able to learn new language words during deep levels of sleep. Results of the study that recently appeared in the publication Current Biology and other studies suggest the same findings.
The research group was led by Katharina Henke, a professor at the University of Bern and founder of the school’s Center for Cognition, Learning and Memory. The group carried out experiments on a group of young German-speaking men and women.
During normal sleep, human brain cells are alternately active and inactive. The Swiss experiments centered on periods of slow-wave peaks or deep sleep called “up-states,” which the researchers say are the best moments for sleep learning.
Researchers observed individuals in a controlled environment and recorded brain activity as pairs of words were played for the study subjects. One word in the pair was a real German word. The other was a made-up foreign word.
Each word pair was played four times with the order changed each time. The goal was to create a lasting memory link between the false word and the German word that individuals could identify when awake.
When the subject woke, they were presented with the false language words – both by sight and sound. They were tested on the false words played during sleep.
During this part of the experiment, some subjects had their brain activity recorded by magnetic imaging technology to measure brain activity when subjects were answering questions.
Results of the study found that a majority of subjects gave more correct answers about the sleep-learned words than would be expected if they had only guessed. Researchers said memory was best for word pairs presented during slow-wave peaks during sleep.
The researchers say more study is needed to support their findings. However, the experiments provide new evidence that memories can be formed and vocabulary learning can take place in both conscious and unconscious states.