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FOREIGN LANGUAGE - LEARNING BY SLEEPING

Alpha versus beta

FIRST she made fun of it, but then found out that it works. After a one-week "alpha" method course, Alojzia Pániková, a Bratislava business manager, was able to conduct a basic conversation in French.

FIRST she made fun of it, but then found out that it works. After a one-week "alpha" method course, Alojzia Pániková, a Bratislava business manager, was able to conduct a basic conversation in French.

Alojzia needed to learn at least a basic knowledge of French to be able to communicate with her French clients. She decided to take a course of learning the language in the alpha state.

After 20 minutes of lying down and listening to relaxation music, the tape began to introduce phrases in French. The listening section gave way to a section where the student repeated the phrases heard, with the help of a teacher.

"I don't believe that I can learn something merely by sleeping and listening to the music. I am not that naive. However, it was the state of maximum concentration and relaxation that increased the intensity of the learning. Additionally, we repeated everything what we heard. The group is also very important. We experienced a very competitive and interactive atmosphere," Alojzia told The Slovak Spectator.

Language schools, using the methods of suggestopaedia - superlearning, meditative and relaxation technique, and alpha level - point out that this type of learning is based on students fully concentrating on the language input. Traditional ways of learning are conducted at the beta level, in which concentration is not so great.

"[At the beta level] different ideas are constantly appearing [in students' minds], which drag the attention away, such as looking around the room or out of the window. If we cannot change this state of non-concentration it is very difficult to absorb the new information and to remember it," Zdeno Rau, executive officer of Alfa škola, told The Slovak Spectator.

The alpha level is a state of ease, relaxation, and a peaceful mind. We go through this phase each morning just before we are fully awake, and in the evenings before falling asleep.

There are different ways of learning at the alpha level. Learning in the early morning, or late in the evening, which explains the "studying into the night" phenomenon of students cramming for end-of-semester exams. Alpha level schools use a "psychowalkman" to put their students into this state of mind.

"Based on our experience the method is used mainly by the people who do not have time to regularly attend courses during the whole year," Rau said.

Could alpha language courses completely replace memorizing vocabulary and studying grammar? Probably not. Alpha courses focus mainly on conversation and are useful for beginners and lower intermediate students. At the end of the day, to really learn a language thoroughly, students need to study new vocabulary, phrases and grammar. But alpha learning is very useful as a start to learning a foreign language.

"It is important to get the language "into the ears" first, understand it and communicate. Here, the grammar is secondary because no one needs the grammar for basic conversation. Grammar is difficult and discourages many people from studying the language just after several days," Rau added.

Rau said that the knowledge of a foreign language after accomplishing one level of an alpha course, which takes from seven to nine days at eight to ten hours a day, is comparable to attending a one to one-and-a-half year course using traditional teaching methods.

Nevertheless, Alojzia pointed out that further work with the language after accomplishing the course is very important.

"My experience is that the knowledge is not that permanent as when taught by classical methods. It is necessary to regularly revise the language and repeat learned phrases by, for example, attending a traditional course," she said.

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