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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Here's how you learn new languages while you sleep

A new study has provided proof that listening to a new language while you sleep can reinforce prior learning.
Image: Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock
A team led by biopsychologist Björn Rasch from the Swiss National Science Foundation enlisted 60 German-speaking students to test how sleeping affected their Dutch language lessons. They all sat down and learned a number of Dutch words until 10pm, at which point half of the volunteers were told to go to bed and the other half had to stay up. 
The sleeping half had the words they’d just learned played back to them while they were in non-rapid eye movement sleep - otherwise known as a dreamless sleep. The other half stayed up till 2am and also had their newly learned words played back to them.
At 2am, the sleeping volunteers were woken up and everyone was tested on the same group of Dutch words they’d all learned and listened to recordings of. According to Liat Clark at Wired, “Despite only hearing the Dutch words in their sleep, the students that got some shut-eye could remember the German translation better than the group forced to stay awake. In fact, the playback appeared to have no effect on those that were up all night.”
Publishing in the journal Cerebral Cortex, the researchers concluded that "Verbal cueing [spoken recordings] failed to improve memory during active and passive waking."
"It is, of course,” says Clark at Wired, "entirely reasonable to assume that sleep depravation versus rest played a part in the results.” But the team accounted for this by figuring out what was going on in the brains of the sleeping volunteers by taking electroencephalography, or EEG, recordings, which record electrical activity along the scalp. 
Of the different types of EEG feedback signals they got, one was correlated to the part of the brain responsible for processing language. And these feedback signals, known as “theta oscillations”, are associated with memory encoding activity when a person is awake. 
More research needs to be done, but the signs from this study are pretty promising that your brain can retain learned information even while you're at rest.
Source: Wired