Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A foreign language is best learned in the bedroom

Herr Doktor, seit einem Monat schlafe ich nicht. Eine schlaflose Nacht is für mich ein Qual. Welches Schlafmittel soll ich nehmen?

I always chuckle a little when this dialog comes up in my German lessons. For me, it's self-referential. The lady is asking her doctor what to take for insomnia. I say take some German lessons. Seriously.

Here's why learning a foreign language is the best cure for insomnia:

When you learn a foreign language as an adult, you have to learn the grammar rules. But, you don't become fluent by working out a little grammar algorithm in your head to compose each sentence before you speak. It has to become automatic. And that comes from (rather mindless) drills and memorization. You can train your brain by listening to your recorded dialogs so many times that you can recite them.

Insomnia, for me, is almost always a question of having some idea or problem stuck in my mind that I just can't stop obsessing about. Then, as the hours tick by, the thought that I'll be too tired to work the next day just compounds the problem with further stress and worry.

Language recordings to the rescue! As I focus on the dialogs in the recording, it pushes the other thoughts and obsessions out of my mind. Since I've heard these dialogs already (no surprises!) it's easy for my conscious mind to wander off to dreamland. And best of all, when it doesn't work, there's no compounding stress/worry about having wasted so many precious hours just lying there. No time was wasted at all -- I was improving my German, which I'm supposed to set aside time to do anyway!

I used this trick when learning French, and later Italian. I stopped doing it when my babies were born, though, because I didn't want any danger from the ear-bud cords where my babies and I were sleeping. Now that they're six and eight years old (and have been in their own big-boy beds for a number of years) I have no further excuses. Well, no good ones anyway.

I've only got a handful of lessons left in Allemand Pratique de Base, and if I finish them up by the end of the year, I'll have succeeded in one of my (very modest) goals. With interruptions, this beginner German course has taken me approximately two years. That's not so impressive when you consider that twelve years ago I completed the comparable course "Teach Yourself French" in the space of two weeks.

Of course things were a little different back when I decided to learn French. For one thing, it was Summer, and I had two weeks by myself. I had no kids to take care of. The only task on my agenda was procrastinating my PhD research, so I had 24 hours a day to devote to teaching myself to speak French. (Now, if you're thinking "Chanson, don't you have a Java book that you're procrastinating right now?" -- keep in mind that today, we have more advanced technology for procrastination: the Internet.)

Note that my motivation back then was a little different: there was a certain highly desirable Frenchman I wanted to impress. Motivation is the other reason the bedroom is the best place to learn a new language. Usually it's an annoyance for native speakers to help you practice while you blunder your way through their language. But the magic of romance turns it cute. Plus it makes you want to figure out how to say all sorts of different things to your foreign sweetheart. The trouble with this trick is that -- when successful -- it works only once. Now that I'm happily married to an adorable Frenchman, well, let's just say it limits the possibility of learning German in the same way.

And -- bringing this discussion full circle -- some of you may be noting that sex is also a good cure for insomnia. It is, but it's not as effective as listening to language lessons. Insomnia, language, and romance: three bedroom activities that go great together! ;^)


Leah said...

That is a great idea!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Leah!!!

It really works!

simplysarah said...

Ausgezeichnet, this post. Love the idea. :)

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks SimplySarah!!!

And I even know what that means! :D

Rebecca said...

Brilliant! I wonder if I can get some language CDs at the library...

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Rebecca!!!

I'd be willing to bet that they do! Of course, you can always ask pizzocalabro! :D

12BSTEWA Team said...

Wow, I never would have thought of marrying someone who speaks another language...there's only one problem, I want to learn Old English, and sleeping with dead bodies is illegal.

Would you mind if I mentioned you in my blog? http://12bstewa.blogspot.com/

C. L. Hanson said...

Re: sleeping with dead bodies is illegal.

Not to mention disgusting.

Re: Would you mind if I mentioned you in my blog?

Of course not! Everyone is encouraged to link to me for any reason whatsoever. :D

Unknown said...

Delightful as always Chanson! I love your take on things, the way your mind figures out such practical solutions to challenges as they come along. There's a kind of "mathematical" certainty to your reasoning, that for whatever reason is always very appealing to me.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Tom!!!

Ben said...

Sounds like an excellent solution for insomnia! Unfortunately I think I lack sufficient motivation to learn a foreign language. I have found a solution that does work for me though - prescription sleeping pills! :-)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Ben!!!

That works -- if you want to do it the easy way. ;^)

Anonymous said...

I think you have prescribed an amazing solution for insomnia. I am taking German in my junior year as a minor. I am really liking it. I read this book in my library. I am a college sophomore with a dual major in Physics and Mathematics @ University of California, Santa Barbara. By the way, i came across these excellent flash cards. Its also a great initiative by the FunnelBrain team. Amazing!!!

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

Find yourself an attractive Anglo-Saxonist in a college English department. I've met two in my life (they were both a bit too old and married, but still, these people exist).

Catherine Wentworth said...

I am struggling with insomnia and learning a language (Thai).

Like you, I have listened to my language lessons while trying to sleep, but it does not always work for me.

As a long-time insomniac, I know that it has nothing to do with the audio and everything to do with me. Sometimes nothing works.

But your post did get me thinking.

Combining a relaxing audio with my Thai conversation audios just might increase the chances of helping me to drop off to sleep. And I get to learn a bit more Thai at the same time.

It's a thought...

PS: Taking an actual Thai to bed is not in my near future, but I now know where I went wrong with my French studies ;-)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Catherine!!!

I can't promise this will work with severe cases of insomnia (like my brother Ben, above). But for me, the times when it doesn't work, it's comforting (hence relaxing, anti-stressful) that at least the time in bed was used constructively, learning German.

Catherine Wentworth said...

Hey ya back C.L. :-)

I tried listening to my Thai lessons the first night and it did not work. I was too deep into 'that' time. But during the second night I was able to sleep (but I had help).

I also mixed my Thai language lessons with a sleep audio I got off the internet. The combo is very relaxing, so when I'm sleeping normally, it should be ok.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Catherine!!!

That's great that that combo works reasonably well when your sleep problem isn't too severe.

Anonymous said...

I second that motion! A foreign language can best be learned in the comfort of your own home. I am studying a foreign language right now with online flash cards from funnelbrain. These online flashcards have been so useful as a study tool! Well, you just got to give them a try for yourself and see what I mean.