Posted by & filed under Benefits of multilingualism, Multilingual identity.

I have heard on several occasions that the sign of fluency in a language is when one dreams in the language. That can’t be true. Or else I’m fluent in Arabic without being aware of it! I briefly studied Arabic but I don’t speak it. However, sometimes I have dreams in Arabic, or in what sounds like Arabic, in Arabic-speaking countries and I understand what is going on.

In this video, I speak with Luca Lampariello and Richard Simcott about the languages in which they dream.

  • That’s an interesting topic actually.

    I always have the feeling that there’s a certain language in my dreams, but sometimes I did question myself if it really was the language or was it just the feeling I communicate (or other people communicate) in certain language.

    It all became clearer when I’ve started leraning visual languages – sign languages, especially the ASL (American) and PJM (Polish) – then people in my dreams started to sign. And this is easily, um, verifiable. Because that cannot be random sounds with a foreign ring to it, it has to be proper, observable gestures to have meaning.

    When I thought about it even more, it turned out, that I always dream about monolingual people I know in their mother tongue. The Deaf people I know never speak any language, they always sign in my dreams. I traced it back to other people. When I was aware they knew one of my native languages (English and/or Polish) they most often spoke those in my dreams. On the contrary when I knew Japanese people or Esperanto speakers for which those were the only common languages we had – I never dreamed about them speaking Polish or English.

    So maybe we tend to bond certain people with certain languages strongly, like small bilingual/multilingual children?

    • SusannaZaraysky

      It would indeed be odd to have a native Japanese speaker conversing in Polish in your dreams unless he/she indeed speaks Polish. When native speakers are in your dream do they speak in perfect accent-less Japanese or do you hear your own accent or mistakes when they speak? This may be a detail you hadn’t paid attention to while you were dreaming.

      • I will pay much attention to it, that’s interesting.

        For now I can only say that sometimes when I’m dreaming about discussing something with a native speaker I don’t always follow. Hence the conclusion would be my brain perceives them as more profficent that I am and making sounds up with which I cannot cope.

        On the contrary, people I am aware have no fluency or knowledge in sign languages, sign pretty flawlessly in my dreams. Gestures must be then easier to reproduce than sounds while we are asleep. This would be in line with the common knowledge of left hemisphere having more rest while we are in REM phase than the right hemispehere.