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Learn a new language faster, without paying attention

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Scientific American reports on two recent studies that are good news for anyone struggling to learn a new language. Especially expats who don’t like to memorize.

Findings in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America indicate that people who work continuously on learning sounds in a new language performed no better than people who took breaks.

The second group was able to pay attention to another task — while the sounds of the new language played on in the background.

“Granted, this doesn’t mean you can go from a ¿Dónde está el baño?–level of Spanish to impeccable fluency after two hours of napping in the glow of a telenovela, but it’s still pretty encouraging,” reports New York Magazine.

And according to a study in the Journal of Memory and Language, you’ll learn to distinguish sounds in a foreign language faster through passive listening rather than trying to repeat those sounds yourself at the same time.

“You need to come to class and pay attention,” said Melissa Baese-Berk, co-author of both studies.

“But when you go home, turn on the TV, or turn on the radio in that language while you’re cooking dinner, and even if you’re not paying total attention to it, it’s going to help you,” she told Scientific American.

“So sit back, relax, and enjoy the phonemes for a minute,” advises New York Magazine.

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