Can I Learn While I'm Sleeping?
August 31, 2009 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Does subliminal learning work? I'm at an intermediate level of french but since I'm leaving for France in a month I want to speed up the process a bit. I already do a lot of work (listening to RFI while I work, speaking whenever possible etc) but I figure if listening to podcasts while I sleep would help too then why not?

I've always thought that subliminal learning in one's sleep doesnt work and that its just a gimmick (in fact when I tried to search for this on google all of my results were trying to sell me hypnosis CDs) but I thought maybe the AskMefi community might know a thing or two about this. So tell me, will I be wasting my iPod's battery by listening to French in my sleep?
posted by minicloud to Education (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How do you plan to fall asleep if you're listening to someone speak?
posted by dfriedman at 7:44 PM on August 31, 2009

Response by poster: Oh thats not a problem, I do it all the time on airplanes. Hmm I'm beginning to think this was a stupid question.
posted by minicloud at 7:50 PM on August 31, 2009

Well if you can fall asleep listening to people talk, go for it. What's the harm? I've just never heard of someone being able to do that.
posted by dfriedman at 7:55 PM on August 31, 2009

This isn't exactly your question but even if that doesn't work, I find personally that learning French right before going to sleep helps quite a lot. Especially if it's intensive, and not just a few verbs here and there or something.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:06 PM on August 31, 2009

Un de mes amis croyait qu'il pouvait apprendre en dormant. Il écoutait souvent des audio books. Il dit qu'il était capable d'apprendre, mais je n'y croyais pas et je ne crois pas que ce soit possible.
Ceci n'est que mon opinion personnelle.
posted by PowerCat at 8:27 PM on August 31, 2009

Best answer: Sleep learning has apparently been discredited.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:04 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't think this is a stupid question.

I don't have the answer, and I have no expertise in this area, but if all you stand to lose is ipod battery power, why not? To perhaps add to the plan's efficacy, I'd reserve 15 minutes before sleep, relax completely and focus on the content of the lesson.

Not that there's a direct connection, but I use deep relaxation techniques for pain management. My ipod provides background music. It helps. Memail me if you want a link to a page to a deep relaxation exercise. I'll dig it up if you like.

There's a lot we don't know about the mind. What you're proposing sounds harmless and potentially beneficial. So go for it, and let us know if it worked.
posted by vincele at 9:25 PM on August 31, 2009

It probably doesn't work or we would all be forced to do it as kids. And then there are the risks.
posted by chairface at 9:28 PM on August 31, 2009

The amount of effort you put into a process generally tends to linearly correlate with the results you get. We all wish it weren't so.
posted by halogen at 12:01 AM on September 1, 2009

Listening to language podcasts while you're in that limbo time betwixt sleep and 'wake is actually quite effective -- but for all the obvious reasons. It's quiet, you're comfortable, you're focused.

That's not what most people call "subliminal" of course. That's snake-oil.

Not sure I'd wanna wear headphones or plugs, though. When I did it, I used a special Radio-Shack speaker that slipped inside your pillowcase.
posted by RavinDave at 1:22 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I tried this the speaking in my ear kept me awake. When I eventually did succeed in falling asleep, I slept terribly.

I'd spend as much time as possible before your trip speaking French, active learning rather than passive.
posted by devnull at 1:48 AM on September 1, 2009

Best answer: I used to fall asleep to a particular ambient CD and never made it through the first 1/4 of songs before falling asleep. A few months in I listened to the whole thing and found I knew the later songs, even though I'd never listened to them while awake.

As HP pointed out, this shouldn't work unless I was in an alpha state, which I would have been in around the time of falling asleep. Learning complex material is a different matter though. This was route memorization repeated for months on end. You could probably listen to the podcasts and might even recognize the words if you heard them, but connecting them to actual meanings is a different matter entirely, and as others have stated, this would probably make sleep hard.

It does make me wonder if you could create ambient cds with foreign words as part of the music (ethereal voice, low volume, etc.). Might help with pronunciation.
posted by jwells at 5:46 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have had very good success with language-learning and other audio training in bed, right before sleep. I don't believe anything is happening AFTER I fall asleep (in fact I usually wake back up and turn it off a few minutes later, annoyed), but during those last few minutes of half-swooziness pre-sleep, I seem to be quite suggestible, and whatever is put into my head really takes hold.

(Hopefully, I'll never marry Betty or Wilma.)
posted by rokusan at 5:52 AM on September 1, 2009

Seconding jwells's idea, and even simpler: stop listening to English-language music right now, and fill your iPod with only French singers. Preferably singer-songwriter or folky types so that there are a lot of words. They'll get stuck in your brain.
posted by rokusan at 5:53 AM on September 1, 2009

When I listen to Spanish-language audio books as I fall asleep, I'm more likely to dream in Spanish. I'm not sure if that has increased my waking-life knowledge of it, but I enthusiastically second the recommendations for replacing as much of your daily media as possible with the French-language versions. It's amazing what you can absorb. I'm also a big fan of soap operas and trashy novels in the language you want to learn--they're fun and addictive.
posted by PatoPata at 6:45 AM on September 1, 2009

PatoPata - could you try an experiment for me? Get an audio book in a language you don't know and see if you dream in that language. It'd probably be gibberish but that's how kids start out. I'm wondering if you're on to something there.
posted by jwells at 9:06 AM on September 1, 2009

Simply listening to a language in the background helps your brain figure out the sounds of that language -- this helps with segmenting words, hearing phonemes that occur in one language but not another, etc. I don't think much research has been done about how effective (if at all) this learning is while the person is asleep, but it IS known that it can be done without overt attention... just having something in the background while you do something else non-linguistic (say, drawing) is often sufficient. So it couldn't hurt, and might help, who knows?

Even if it helps your brain get used to the sounds of French, I wouldn't expect that it will help at all with the syntax or with figuring out the meanings of words. But that's not all there is to language, and being able to parse sentences better could be really handy.
posted by forza at 4:05 AM on September 2, 2009

When I was a kid, I used to listen to shortwave radio, and sometimes I got tired while I waited for an Arabic language station to give a definitive ID. Sometimes I'd end up with my head on the desk, and then I'd start to nod off--and then the Arabic suddenly made sense! Not really, of course, but I'd think I was understanding the news or whatever and only when I snapped out of my doze did I realize that I wasn't actually understanding it. Or maybe I really did understand it, and I should promptly move to Cairo and take Ambien.
posted by PatoPata at 9:46 PM on September 2, 2009

Je suis la personne dont powercat parle, et je dois dire qu'ecouter des audio books pendant la nuit m'a aidé sur beaucoup de niveaux, et depuis que j'ai cessé l'utilisation de ceux-ci durant la nuit, je vois ou soit une cessation des résultat ou des résultat amoindris. J'ai utilisé toutes sorte de methodes et je dois dire qu'elle fonctionne mieux si on y croit et qu'un s'y investit totalement, car la vrai chose qui nousd motive en bout de ligne c'est soit nous-meme ou les resultat anticipés. j'ai cessé de fumer non grace à l'hypnose bien que j'en ai fait énormément, mais bien grace a mon effort personel et a ma volonté - c'est sur que ll'hypnose m'a aidé car elle a renforcit mon but et mes motivations...

Comme powercat dit, c'est bien mon opinion personel. Mais... Tout n'est qu'opinion personel en bout de ligne...
posted by Mrfardoche at 6:57 PM on April 1, 2010

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