In the first matrix movie there is a scene where Neo first learns about the possibilities of the matrix. They hook up his brain and download the knowledge of kung fu. Instantly he is a kung fu master.
For some people looking for a way to learn Japanese in their sleep, this is the image that comes to mind. They hope against hope that there’s an easy and effortless way to “download” Japanese into their brains while they sleep.
As much as I wish that were true, there is no respectable scientific evidence that you can learn a language while you sleep. However there are some who think that listening to Japanese as you fall asleep may help you remember knowledge you already learned earlier in the day.
Four stages of sleep
Experts break down our normal nightly sleep patterns into four stages.
In the first stage your brain starts to slow down as you drift on the edge of being awake and falling asleep.
In the second stage you become less aware of your surroundings, also your breathing and heartbeat become more regular.
In the third stage your muscles relax, your breathing rate drops, and you become even more unresponsive to what’s going on around you.
In the final stage (the deepest sleep stage) brain activity increases as you start to dream. You can no longer voluntarily control your muscles, and you are largely unaware of what’s around you.
Can you learn Japanese while sleeping?
It's unlikely you'll learn Japanese when you're asleep
It’s interesting to note that up until the fourth and final phase of sleep your brain activity relaxes, then when you reach the final stage it becomes active but you are unaware of what’s going on around you. The fact that your brain doesn’t respond to change in your environment makes sleep learning unlikely.
Even if you are asleep listening to the best Japanese course on the planet, your brain is unlikely to register anything you hear, because while you’re sleeping you’re not really “hearing” it at all.
While it’s not possible to learn new information while you sleep. Making a habit of learning new information, or reviewing information you already know before you sleep can work wonders for your Japanese learning.
You can learn Japanese in bed
So learning Japanese while sleeping isn’t possible, learning Japanese in bed before you fall asleep is not only possible, but could bring a huge boost to your Japanese learning program.
Of all the options out there for learning Japanese, audio lessons and courses will be your best resource for bedtime study. Needless to say learning kanji, katakana, and hiragana in bed isn’t as convenient.
Resources for learning Japanese in bed (Beginners)
There are two wonderful audio resources which both work great as a nighttime Japanese learning resource. The first is Pimsleur Japanese.
Pimsleur is largely an audio based course. Pimsleur’s Japanese lessons teach you whole Japanese phrases and you’re required to answer and ask questions in Japanese using those phrases. This prompt, recall, respond technique is unique to Pimsleur and is an effective way to improve your spoken Japanese.
Of all the Japanese courses out there, the Pimsleur experience is the closest you’ll get to talking with a native Japanese speaker using just a course.
One thing that’s also great about Pimsleur is that all their courses are available on their mobile app. Not too long ago if you wanted Pimsleur you had to by their CD-rom based course.
You can even get a week of full access to all five of Pimsleur’s Japanese courses for free. It’s definitely worth checking out, if you’re looking to improve your Japanese speaking skills before bedtime.
Another awesome resource for learning Japanese at night is Japanesepod101.
Japanesepod101 is a massive collection of Japanese lessons in the form of podcasts. Each episode features a conversation between two Japanese speakers. The hosts of the podcast act as your personal Japanese teachers and point out useful vocabulary, nuances of Japanese grammar, and even interesting cultural insights.
In addition to hundreds of podcast episodes Japanesepod101 offers a wealth of other learning tools like a Japanese-English dictionary, spaced repetition flashcards, video lessons, resources for learning to read and write Japanese, and much more.
While most of the content on Japanesepod101 is only available through a paid monthly subscription, they also offer a free lifetime account. With the free account you have access to some of the podcast lessons. You’ll also receive a free gift pack every month which includes things like video lessons, audiobooks, interactive phrase lists, and other useful resources.
Resource for learning Japanese in bed (video & media)
If you’re an intermediate to advanced learner just watching your favorite anime (preferably without english subtitles) or listening to Japanese music and media will help you review the Japanese you’ve already learned. If you’re a beginner and you’re looking for Japanese video content I highly recommend the Youtube channel Easy Japanese.
The folks at Easy Japanese walk around Japan and interview people on the street, asking them interesting questions. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in day to day spoken Japanese. Subtitles are offered in both Japanese and English.
While learning Japanese in your sleep isn’t likely, there are still some awesome and effective ways to learn the language before you sleep, or even as you fall asleep!
A nightly routine of Japanese learning is a powerful tool on the road to fluency. Check out some of the resources mentioned in this post and boost your bedtime Japanese learning.