Friday, October 03, 2008

Can You Really Learn A Foreign Language While You Sleep: Theoretical Approaches

The Lure of Learning English While You Sleep

While the lure of “learning English or another foreign language while you sleep” may be highly provocative and tempting for all of us in this not-enough-time-to-do-everything world, there’s still no “easy out”. Learning a foreign language can be a life-long pursuit or a summer project. In this second installment of our quest, we’ll briefly examine some theoretical approaches to English language or foreign language learning.

Theoretical Approaches

English Language Teaching and Learning theories support a number of useful, valid approaches for foreign language or second language acquisition. Considering the major language learning theories previously or currently prevalent, let’s briefly examine any basis for “sleep learning”. The following language learning theories have all been popular or prevalent during our current or recent decades:

Grammar / Translation method
(F. Boas and O. Jespersen)

Direct Methods

Audio-Lingual (Darian, 1972 et al.)

Computer-Aided Language Learning - (CALL)

TPR - Total Physical Response
(J. Asher, 1965)

The Silent Way (Gattegno, 1972)

The Communicative Approach

Suggestopedia (Lozanov, 1978)

The Natural Approach (Krashen-Terrell, 1983)

Neuro-linguistic Programming - NLP
(Bandler and Grindler, 1982)

The Lexical Approach (Willis, 1990 et al.)

Community Language Learning
( C. Curran et al., 1972)

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, (H. Gardner, 1983) while not strictly a language-learning theory, nonetheless, has had considerable application to language learning and acquisition. Of these, the following have aspects which seemingly might promote or support the concept of “sleep learning”. They are: The Silent Way (Gattegno, 1972), Suggestopedia (Lozanov, 1978), and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Bandler and Grindler, 1982).
Let’s briefly examine each of these.

The Silent Way

The Silent Way (ref. Richards and Rodgers, 2004) was developed by Caleb Gattegno (Gattegno, 1972) and is a method based on the premise that the English, or foreign language teacher, should be “silent” as much as possible and the language learner encouraged to produce as much language as possible. But while the method requires minimal external input on the part of the language teacher, it does provide for problem-solving, “discovery learning” and creation of memorable images to facilitate learner recall. Problem-solving and discovery learning certainly can not occur during the noted stages of sleep. Creation of “memorable imagery” is possible, especially during the dream state, but how many learners remember these images with any frequency?

Theory, Methodology and Didactics

Apart from theory, methodology and didactics, language is a communicative tool. It allows us, as humans, to share our knowledge, thoughts and ideas in a way and at a level that none of the other animal species ever can. But what actually constitutes good practice in English or foreign language learning? How can we identify or become a good language learner? In the third installment of this article series, “Can you really learn English or another foreign language while you sleep?”, we’ll examine some of the many aspects inherent in good language learners.

NOTE: The entire series is available ONLY by e-mailing Prof. Lynch at: with “Sleep Learning” in the e-mail title. Regretfully, when my current supply of copies of this limited, controversial, eye-opening report are exhausted, the report will go out of print.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 125 countries. Get your FREE, pdf format report" Can You Really Learn A Foreign Language While You Sleep?" by requesting the title at:

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