Saturday, January 02, 2010

Hypnosis and Language Learning - A Different Twist

A little while ago, there was a post at HTLAL about hypnosis and language learning called A Relaxing Approach to Language Learning. Notes the author:
[I]t suddenly occurred to me that listening to some hypnosis audios would be a charming way to improve your listening skills while getting some much needed relaxation in.
I think this is a nice idea, but I have one caveat based on both my (limited) knowledge of hypnosis and personal experience: If you're using hypnosis audio to improve your listening skills, you run the risk that the engagement that comes with active listening will interfere with the hypnotic effect you sought.

I've always been dubious of using hypnosis to learn language and still am. It's fine to use to improve behavioral patterns that impact language learning. And I think it can be helpful to get into a frame of mind where you can work with comprehensible input without feeling the need to be consciously analytical. But to put it the way I should have to begin with, hypnosis is for getting in the right state to learn, not for learning per se.

Listening to hypnosis audio in your target language is a different animal. Here, the idea is not to figure out the language, but to let the language carry you away. That means you need to understand enough that you won't be frustrated by the content. The question is: then what? Curious, I downloaded a few hypnosis tracks in French and got a Spanish meditation CD (one I already had in English). Here's what I have found:

I don't know whether the subconscious, on hearing language it doesn't understand, will store it away for later processing or disregard it as it does any other noise that isn't of use for it. I suspect it's the latter. Certainly, if I fail to understand a word while in hypnosis, I have a very hard time remembering what it was to look it up when I come out of hypnosis, and the few I have remembered are words I had seen before or that were simple enough that I had no trouble imagining how they would be spelled. What's more, with Spanish (in which my skills are weaker), I have to listen to the same session a couple times before my brain gets used to the script and I can ignore, rather than fretting about, words that I might have missed. And I get the most benefit from audio with binaural beats, which induce hypnosis whether the words themselves hypnotize you or not. Given my experience, I don't think this is for learning a new language or for taking in "future comprehensible input" that your brain will sort out after you've learned more.

I do think, however, that hypnosis can be very useful for an activity near and dear to language learners: Dreaming in a foreign language. When you're in hypnosis, you're usually in the theta state - half-awake, half-asleep. Contrary to the name, it's the awake part that makes it useful; all the sleep part does is lower your filters. Two of the clear signs that you're in hypnosis are softer breathing and REM - just like with the early stages of dreaming - but as a general rule you still have some awareness of your physical environment, and if something makes you decide you want to leave hypnosis you usually come out of it on your own, unlike with bad dreams. That said, hypnosis feels a lot like dreaming. And I've found that when I'm doing visualization exercises under hypnosis in French, any place where I'm asked for a verbal response (think of a question that has been bothering you...) the response comes in French. Furthermore, when I come out of hypnosis, I feel the way I feel when I wake up from dreaming in a foreign language. My Spanish isn't any better, but it's more fluid. And my French flows more naturally - there's less temptation to switch to English as opposed to paraphrasing if the the word I'm looking for isn't coming. For French, it really feels like I could get back to the same naturalness - if not level - that I'd have if I stayed there a week or two (though nothing comparable to living there, sorry).

So, if you're a beginner in a language and looking for a shortcut or a way to get in touch with your language... sorry, I don't think there's much for you here. But if you're a reasonably advanced speaker - advanced enough to understand the images in visualizations and commands about regulating your breath and concentrating on the sensations in the different parts of the body - then hypnosis audio provides a way to "dream" in your target language any time you want.

For free hypnosis audio, I'd start here:
French: PasseportSanté.net
Spanish: Youtube search - you'll have to strip out the audio or convert them to iPod videos


Anonymous Teddy Maynard said...

Hey, Gbarto,

I found your site in Google and this is a really interesting topic.

I kind of disagree with how much you downplay hypnosis for changing the habits around language learning, and put a response linking back to your post so my readers will find it: "Hypnosis for Language Learning,"
I tend to think beginnings would do really well to use hypnosis, though not target-language tapes like you say.

And I REALLY like what you have to say about the theta state and dreaming.

After all, isn't dreaming in a language one of the signs that you've "got it?"

I don't have any research to point to or further insight... whenever I get back to Spanish I will definitely experiment with Spanish-language hypnosis in the theta state. I think to start I would record a self-hypnosis tape where the induction's in English and then once I'm down, I shift into Spanish, especially with a Spanish locale as a visual frame.

You trained as a hypnotist, right?

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Adalia John said...

Based on your own research you have concluded that hypnosis is not a tool that can be used successfully to learn a new language. I have a friend who used it and was quite successful. Here's the question - could it be that her success had less to do with hypnosis and more to do with her own abilities? As for your conclusion - Should you try to prove your theory by testing others?

2:42 PM  
Blogger Amelia said...


Very interesting comment!

We have also written about this here:



7:53 AM  
Anonymous Ramses said...

Although I personally don't like hypnosis because I don't like it when other people control me, it's still a very interesting subject.

I wonder how effective it would be if you're put under hypnosis and then start listening to some language tapes or just listening to your target language. Will the results be better? Will you remember more? Would be interesting to test that.

4:04 PM  
Blogger gbarto said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Just to clear things up, I am 100% behind using autohypnosis to change behavior or attitudes about language learning. I use it myself. What I'm downplaying is the idea that if you do your lessons in theta or under hypnosis you'll automatically learn a language. To the contrary, if I were feeling spacy but thought I should study, I'd listen to something with alpha waves or maybe the Allegro from Vivaldi's Spring Concerto to perk myself up. Theta is for things other than active learning. Your article, I think, captures the best uses of hypnosis for language learning fairly well.

I'd love to know more about your friend's experiences. I've been looking for the Holy Grail for language learning a long time and would be delighted if there's really something out there that lets you go into a trance and wake up speaking a new language. But my shelf of subliminal tapes, sleep learning tapes, automatic memorization tapes, etc, make me wary. If you can get the specifics on what your friend did and how, I'd love to give it a try.

Do you have a link for the specific article?

If you learn autohypnosis, you can write your own script and control yourself. I think you have to be conscious enough to process what you're learning from, which makes hypnosis more useful for creating good study habits and learning states than for actual learning. At least that's my experience (I tried trancing out and flipping on Vocabulearn tapes every night for a week or so but my German went nowhere). I'm hoping Adalia will write back with a better idea for us.

4:44 PM  

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