Friday, December 23, 2011

Speaking a foreign language in a dream when you know next to nothing?

My friend sent me an email relating the following tale of dreaming in Spanish, even though he's studying Japanese and knows pretty much no Spanish. I'm not exactly sure what to make of it, so I'll throw it out to you. What do you think?

My mom asked me this morning what I was dreaming about last night because I was talking in my sleep. I couldn't remember anything so I just shrugged it off and asked what was I saying? Here's the kicker, my mom said "You were speaking Spanish. It was like a conversation going on for a few minutes." I was even doing it with a Spanish-like accent. I can tell you flat out that if hard pressed to say more than please and thank you in Spanish I would drown in a sea of my own ignorance. Also, as you know, the only Spanish I ever took was in high school, with Mrs. Huggins, which I never even opened the book for, so I wouldn't say I learned anything that could subconsciously be festering in the back of my mind. I have never been to a Spanish-speaking country, don't listen to Spanish-language music, rarely watch Spanish films (and definitely not recently), and have had no other interaction or exposure to Spanish-speaking people recently. So where does it come from?
My friend throws out a few of his own ideas, after the jump.

The first thing I thought was what does my mom, whose Spanish knowledge would be even less than mine, consider a conversation? Was I repeating myself a lot? Was I mainly speaking gibberish with a Spanish accent? And so on. So without concrete evidence that I was speaking understandable Spanish, it's hard to say the extent of my subconscious knowledge. But she DID say I was speaking complete sentences, waiting—as if listening to what the other person had to say—and then responding to them. When asked how she knew it was Spanish, she said 1) it sounded like the stuff on Telemundo or from the Feliz Navidad song (which, being Christmas, is probably my most recent exposure to Spanish), 2) she recognized "sí", "señorita" and "gracias" within the sentences I was saying, and 3) she knows Spanish just well enough to pinpoint it, but doesn't understand a word of it.

I really wonder if in learning Japanese, I've triggered some other language linked neural path that just happened to surface as my long ago Spanish exposure, or if I'm absorbing Spanish unknowingly through tidbits of passing exposure that's being tucked away because it is recognized in my mind as a language I've cognitively learned in the past? Quite interesting stuff if we can gather more info on it. Maybe I'll have a graduate thesis in here somewhere.
My best guess? He was dreaming in Spanish, but it was limited to whatever he knew and was enough to fool his mom, but if a Spanish speaker had been there it would have sounded like some poor imitation of Spanish. Although I have to say it'd be pretty cool if there was some font of incidental knowledge of languages picked up here and there that we could somehow tap...


  1. It would make sense that what he had heard in passing had made a subconscious imprint.  Not to speak perfect dream spanish but probably a slightly less than semi-decent conversation. lol...

    I tried to look up if there had been any studies on it... but only found a post that a professor from berkley wrote about how language affects people differently. The only line that would really pertain to this post here though (i thought) was this:

    “The way that a language manages to imprint itself upon the mind is a difficult, almost impossible thing to describe"

    who knows maybe your friend had a spanish lover way back when. lol

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  2. People are recreating their daily experiences while dreaming .So he maybe had heard some Spanish conversation during the day. And I agree with Stephany that " It would make sense that what he had heard in passing had made a subconscious imprint.  Not to speak perfect dream spanish but probably a slightly less than semi-decent conversation."

  3. I've had similar things happen (though, to my knowledge, I don't speak aloud in my sleep).  Typically if I've been reminiscing about a place where I had to speak a language, I'll start rattling off phrases and conversations in other languages within my dream.

    I always wake up amazed that my subconscious retained so much, when in my waking hours I'd have to struggle to accomplish such a feat.

    I always figured it's because we still have all of our knowledge deep down, but that our conscious mind doesn't recall it as quickly unless we've recently activated it.

  4. Had a friend who was learning Japanese and having a lot of trouble with it. He had a number of dreams in which he was speaking the language fluently. Sadly he gave up learning Japanese and all other languages too.

  5. a similar thing, I guess, is when you're drunk in a foreign country and can speak a lot more then you realized, at least you think you can. I think we have a lot of unrealized potential that is very difficult to tap into

  6. Sometimes I speak in different languages in my dreams, usually in languages that I know, English is the most common, my native language is Spanish, more than once my roomate has told me tha I start speaking Italian in the middle of the night. I have studied all those languages.

    But the weird thing is that sometimes I dream in Portuguese, I have long conversations in Portuguese with a Brazilian accent and when I wake up I can only remember fragments of them. I remember once I woke up and I had this phrase stuck in my head and I knew it meant "what do I do?" but it is somewhat a complicated construction and it is not similar to any language I knew so far (years later I found out it's the same in French) and I even knew how to pronounce it. The phrase is: "o que é que eu faço?"

  7. Similar thing happened to me. I know only a few words in Spanish, and only took one Spanish class in high school, so I'm not even close to being fluent in Spanish. My vocabulary is limited to maybe 20 words at the most... But last night I was having a dream that to me seemed to be in English, but before I woke up, someone in my dream said the word La Dicha.. so as soon as I woke up, that word was stuck in my head. Not knowing any Spanish, I thought it was just a made up word, but from my curiosity, I googled it and it actually translates to Bliss/Joy. I'm still pretty shocked and don't know how to explain it because I don't even recall ever seeing that word in my life. The brain is amazing.

  8. Name correction ^

  9. This has happened to me. A few days ago I awoke with a phrase which, when I googled it, found it to arabic. I am like most English people - lazy when it comes to speaking foreign languages although I know a very small amount of French have no knowledge or experience of Arabic. I have no idea where this came from but I have experienced something even more remarkable. A few years ago I woke early and, although still in a bit of a daze, got up to get a drink. When walking to the kitchen, I started to sing a song in an unknown language and completely in tune! This lasted for about 10-15 seconds and completely baffled me immediately afterwards.

  10. didn't speak it myself but there was lots of french in my dream! i take latin and barely know any french but there were even like recipes and stuff in french in my dream.

  11. I just had a dream last night that I was in yeshiva. But instead of speaking Yiddish or Hebrew, or even Yeshivish, everyone and everything was conducted in Spanish. I was like wtf, REALLY even?

    Now I have to learn Spanish TOOO?