[L]istening to French on tape while you sleep is unlikely to instantly give you the ability to order a vanilla latte and an omelet in a foreign tongue the next morning. But it may enhance your ability to learn new vocabulary, according to a study published in Current Biology.
In the study, researchers examined whether people can form meaningful associations between foreign words and their translations while in slow-wave sleep, a stage when a person has little consciousness of their environment. German-speaking study participants slept to the sound of an audio recording that presented pairs of pseudowords representing a non-existent foreign language and their translations. The goal was to see if the words would leave some sort of trace in the patient’s memory, even if it was at an unconscious level.
When they woke up, participants were presented with the fake words again, but this time without their translations.
Researchers found participants were able to correctly classify foreign words at an accuracy rate that was 10 percent higher than random chance, as long as they heard the word at precise times during slow wave sleep. The result suggests that the approach the researchers used causes the brain to form memory traces, or changes in the brain that help us store a memory.
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