How to Learn a Language While Sleeping
I wrote another article on this subject the other day concerning the question “is it possible to learn a language while sleeping?” and it got me thinking that some people are probably going to want to know the best way of going about this effectively. So, in this post I am going to discuss how to actually go about learning Japanese in your sleep.
Admittedly the way I do it is really simple and there isn’t too much to it, but if you don’t really know anything about passive listening then I would definitely keep reading to find out more. Most of what I talk about in this post can be applied to passive listening while asleep and passive listening while awake.
What ever content you use you will want to make sure that you are listening to it all through the night to give your brain as many chances as possible to pick up new words and phrases. To make sure this happens, check that your device is fully charged/charging. I use an old iPod touch solely for sleep listening so that I don’t run my main listening device out of juice for the following day.
You should also make sure that whatever app you are using to playback your audio has a loop feature so that if you listen to all your content, it will go back to the beginning and start playing them all again. I’ve woken up numerous times without any Japanese in my ears due to having the wrong setting setup on an app or my battery running out. This might not seem like a big deal but the time lost can add up. Every second counts.
Find Some Good Content to Listen to
This is the most important step. My biggest recommendation has got to be audio books, podcasts or the news, and when I say audio books I mean books that are non-fiction. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been woken up to someone screaming in say, キリノセカイ, or when the narrator gets really excited in Harry Potter. Fiction is perfectly fine though, providing you find something where the narrator just reads the book out-loud and doesn’t add anymore to it.
When I first started learning Japanese, I really only had access to audio from some anime that I owned so I had to make do with that, but it was a nightmare as I really struggled to get to sleep listening to battle noises and people shouting クソッタレ！ぶっ潰してやる！I would stay well clear of action based anime, dramas and films.
Beginner audio CD’s with simple phrases like “Hello.”, “How are you?”, and “The weather is good today.” aren’t going to do you any good either. This stuff is just too simple and a waste of time, especially if it has any English in there as well. You want to be soaking your brain in Japanese so that you can get used to the language. That’s not to say go for super difficult audio books, but don’t waste your time on stuff that is way too easy. Find content that’s in-between.
Of course, if you are at a higher level then aim for harder materials but for anyone else, just aim for content that isn’t annoying and that won’t wake you up. Providing it’s not too easy, the difficulty really doesn’t matter. This is why I suggest using audio books, podcasts and the news. A good place to look is on Amazon’s audible which you can get for free for a month, and then just cancel if you don’t want it anymore. But the other big place to look is LibriVox, which is an awesome resource by the way. All the audio books on the site are free public domain and are read by volunteers from all around the world in all sorts of languages. It’s incredible! So yeah, go check that out to see if there’s anything good for the language you are learning.
Something else that I thought could be really good recently is ASMR, specifically ASMR videos that include constant talking. Putting aside the concept of ASMR, these videos are often very soothing (although sometimes very strange), and the content is literally designed to get you to go to sleep, so it’s perfect and it’s FREE! Win win! If you are learning Japanese then I would recommend the following Japanese ASMR YouTubers:
Sure, ASMR videos have a tendency to be a bit “wacko” but if it helps get you to sleep, and you learn some Japanese on the side, then it’s all good stuff in my books.
Note: There seems to be a lot of foreigners studying Japanese that make ASMR videos in Japanese. These include people from Korea and Taiwan so please check that what you are listening to is from a native speaker. If you aren’t careful, you could accidentally pick up bad Japanese. Check with a native if you are unsure 🙂
I don’t do selfies… Anyway, I’d totally recommend these CozyPhones which you can get on Amazon. They’re cheap, super comfortable and perfect for sleep listening.
If you are looking for something with a bit more “umph” so that you can clearly hear the Japanese that you are listening to then MattVSJapan recommends the Bose QuietComfort 35.
Sleep Over Listening
I just want to make this known, but sleep is really important. Not only is sleep deficiency super bad for your health, but getting a good nights sleep can keep you on your game. If you aren’t getting good consistent sleep, then this will have an effect on how well your brain is able to pick up on new words and vocabulary.
According to the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. After several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven’t slept at all for a day or two.”
It’s really important that you realize this and that you focus on getting high quality sleep. SleepFoundation.org recommend that you stick to a consistent sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every single day. This is to help regulate your body clock, thus giving you much higher quality sleep throughout the night.
Personally I love to use the Sleep as Android app which detects which phases of sleep you are in. It will wake you up during a light sleep cycle instead of a deep sleep cycle to prevent you feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck when you get out of bed.
If you are on iPhone then I would recommend Sleep Cycle alarm clock.
By now you probably realize how important I think sleep is. I honestly think that good sleep = a good mind. Getting great sleep will increase the chances of your brain picking up new words and patterns when passively listening to a language, especially when you are passively listening in your sleep!
One of the other points I also wanted to make here was that I would value a good nights rest, over passive sleep listening. Yes, I believe that passive sleep listening probably has a some form of an effect on acquiring language, and so do the researchers, but it’s not nearly enough to warrant getting bad sleep.
So if you really can’t stand having audio constantly playing in your ears, while trying to get to sleep, then just don’t bother. It’s not the end of the world. Get better sleep and use passive listening throughout your day instead, you will get much better results, and be a happier person, than if you where to put your sleep schedule at risk just because you want effortless passive language acquisition.
Getting a comfortable pair of earphones can also make the world of difference when sleeping. Luckily there are some “sleep phones” on Amazon which will prevent that feeling of being stabbed in the ear when you turn over on your pillow. They are definitely worth the money.
Keep Listening After You Wake Up
Don’t just rip your earphones out the moment you wake up! Keep them in, because this is prime time to get even more language into that brain of yours. If you can, listen to as much as you can throughout the day too. This is where the real progress kicks in as your brain is definitely picking up words and patterns throughout your day. This was one of my main tactics for learning Japanese in 18 months. I spent well over 20 hours a day with, at the very least, 1 earphone in listening to Japanese content aimed at native speakers. And now I can understand Japanese, so something obviously worked.
Passive listening is easy to do, you just have to let the people around you know what you are doing so that they don’t think you are rude for ignoring them :p If you live in Japan then I would recommend this pair of earphones on Amazon that allows you to hear your surroundings while still being able to hear your audio. That way you can still work and do passive listening without the worry of annoying your coworkers for not listening to them. There’s also these earphones if you live in the US.
If you have any other suggestions for content that you like to listen to in your sleep or for any tactics that you may have then let me know them in the comments below! 😀
マットBy Matthew Hawkins 2018/01/28 Follow me on Twitter
Undergraduate Software Engineer and Language Enthusiast.