Have you ever heard your friends abroad saying, “It’s crazy, I’m dreaming in Spanish now!”? While this may seem annoying to “unilingualists”, the fact remains that the phenomenon is real.
Many people can testify to such experiences. But do we have scientific explanations?
What level of Spanish do you need to accomplish this? To begin in Spanish is it enough? Or do you need to be fluent? Can you take specific Spanish lessons?
Dreaming in another language is often seen as a sign that you have made it, and that your level in the language that you are learning is very good. You are therefore unlikely to see much about dreaming in a guide for beginners learning Spanish, although it is possible. So let’s take it step by step, and see what we can do to dream in Spanish…
In place of focusing on individual people’s stories and personal experiences regarding this subject, let’s start by trying to concentrate on tangible facts.
More exactly, is there any evidence to suggest that we can dream in a foreign language? Is there a tiny trace on the internet of a study that finally gives us the recipe for this mystery of life?
The meaning of dreams has long since fascinated people. So what does it mean to dream in Spanish?
Unfortunately, while we have just piqued your curiosity with these two highly important questions, we will have to settle for a negative answer. Indeed, despite many attempts at research, so far no concrete scientific evidence has been put forward to suggest that we can dream in another language.
There have been some connections made, such as work by Joseph de Koninck in the 1980s, but nothing that goes in to any real depth.
This doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the future, just that at this precise moment there is nothing to back it up.
So why is this topic of such interest to people? And can we really dream in a foreign language? Can an English speaker dream in Spanish, even though it is not their mother tongue?
The answer here is obviously yes. Nobody really knows why or when it starts, but many people can attest to such dreams! Speaking Spanish in your dreams is possible.
If you are just starting to teach Spanish to kids, they are unlikely to experience a dream in Spanish immediately. But if you have been learning Spanish for a while, or you have learnt it intensively over a short period of time, then it is far more likely.
What is clear, is that the amount of native English speakers who have experienced dreams in Spanish means that it is most definitely possible, even if there is currently no scientific research to back this up.
This is the second question that comes to mind after worrying about the existence of scientific studies.
Just as it is difficult to say how long it takes to learn Spanish, it is difficult to put an exact number on the amount of time it will take to start dreaming in Spanish, or the level that you will need.
However, general consensus suggests that you will need a high level, and something far more advanced than basic conversational Spanish.
Basically, to approach a phenomenon such as dreaming in a foreign language, one must at least approach bilingualism, or be an advanced Spanish speaker and in total immersion. There is no point in hoping to dream in Spanish if you can only say, “mojito por favor”.
On the other hand, if you are able to explain the composition of the mojito, its evolution through history and recite a poem by Pablo Neruda to the girl in front of you … All in Spanish … We believe strongly in your chances!
Test: if you can describe this landscape in Spanish, you may be approaching your goal!
The link between dreaming and language learning is a complex one that is relatively unknown due to the complexities of the way that the brain works, especially during a state of sleep.
However, dreaming in Spanish is more a sign of your progress, rather than something that you can be taught to do after a few Spanish lessons. In other words, when you start to dream in Spanish, you should see it as a sign that you are reaching a good level, and that what you are learning is becoming ingrained in your mind.
This is particularly true if you understand what is being said. Sometimes we dream in another language that we have no knowledge of, but we don’t understand what is being said. This is therefore something completely different to dreaming, and interacting in the dream, in a language that you are learning.
Another piece of the puzzle is the question of immersion in a foreign country. In our case, Spanish speaking countries include Spain in Europe, Equatorial Guinea in Africa, and everywhere (excluding Brazil) from the US-Mexican border to Ushuaia on the tip of Argentina.
It seems indeed impossible from our point of view to dream in Spanish without being at the same time in a Spanish-speaking country. Unless the Spanish language is your mother tongue.
Some plans for learning Spanish will include a period of time spent living abroad to fully immerse yourself in the language, and it is probably during this stage that you are more likely to start dreaming in Spanish.
So if you want to start dreaming in Spanish sooner rather than later, and in the process progress quickly in the Spanish language, then buy a plane ticket to Madrid, Buenos Aires, or Bogotá.
This could be to go on holiday for a couple of weeks, to spend an extended period taking Spanish classes there, or even to live and work there.
Remember, the longer your period of immersion, the better your progress will be. Obviously this relies on you fully engaging with the language and not finding English speakers with whom you won’t speak Spanish!
When you start out, you’ll need to know how to go about learning Spanish. Likewise, when it comes to immersion, you’ll need to know how to go about it too. After all, you will be surrounded by Spanish speakers; at the grocery store, the cinema, the bars, the beach, the street … everywhere.
It’s not enough to let yourself be carried away by the life around you. It’s about taking part, of course. Thus, dreaming in Spanish requires completely integrating yourself in the life and culture around you. This means, among other things, sharing a house with other Spanish speakers. By doing so, you will bring Spanish into the place that you live, and not just keep it locked just outside of the front door.
Immersion is essential in language learning, and must be total in order for you to get the maximum amount of benefit from it.
“Hola, que tal …”
Another element to keep in mind during your immersion is work. How can you immerse yourself 100% if you’re not working?
Accepting a job abroad and practising it in a language you are learning, that is not yours, is always a way to achieve tremendous progress.
Above all, you will create an environment that will stimulate all of your intellectual abilities, every day of the week. Your brain will be completely submerged in Spanish.
Finally, we would say that having a Spanish-speaking partner is a great help too when it comes to immersion. Basically any way that you can bring more Spanish in to your life will be highly beneficial for you.
And keep in mind that there is no age limit for learning Spanish, so don’t read this and feel like it is not for you because you are not young. Spanish is a language that is accessible for everyone, and therefore the methods described are for everyone too. At the end of the day, there is no limit on who can dream in Spanish whilst sleeping in Barcelona or Santiago.
Learning the Spanish language will obviously help you massively to dream in Spanish. This will allow you to achieve the ultimate goal of interacting in Spanish in your dreams.
But can you simultaneously learn Spanish and dream in Spanish?
The answer to this is yes. You can learn Spanish in a number of different of different ways whilst sleeping, all of which are audio methods. You will find videos on YouTube which you can play as you are falling to sleep, and audio books on Amazon that you should listen to whilst you are asleep.
The idea with all of these methods is that your brain will be absorbing what you are listening too, even while it is in a state of sleep. Obviously this is a very passive approach to learning Spanish, and it will require active study and practice while you are awake, but it is a good way to try and assimilate some information over night.
And naturally during your night’s sleep, you can still have the possibility of dreaming. Therefore there is no reason why you can’t do both at the same time.
Just like there is no maximum age, there is no minimum age for learning Spanish. However, as we have already pointed out, don’t expect to dream in Spanish straight away. It is a longer process that will happen as the language becomes more fixed in your head.
What do we mean by that?
Let’s talk about daily life. If you have already spent several months in a foreign country, while living there fully (with roommates that are from the local population, a job on site, etc.), then you may have come to think in the language of that country.
Take the example of Spanish. In a context similar to the one we just described, you may have already turned, flipped and translated dozens of sentences into your head every day, probably without really noticing it.
Imagine a plausible situation at work or at home and how you pronounce in Spanish a banal phrase that you would say in English. Because this is also a key part of language learning which shows you are advancing towards becoming bilingual.
It’s anticipating a conversation with a friend to talk about a story that just happened to you.
By doing this, once again, you are asking a good part of your intellectual faculties to “work in Spanish”. Thoughts, environment, discussions, job … Everything around you is in Spanish, which is what you need in order to trigger your first dreams!
Without being eminent scientists or philosophers, we are aware that what happens in a day can resurface in your dreams the same evening or a little later. Short-term memory tends to condition dreams.
Therefore, the people you see during the day, the situation that you experience, and the interactions that you have, can all return to your head during the night as you sleep. These could be the little things that start you with your first dreams in Spanish, particularly if you are replaying an interaction that you had in the Spanish language.
Make friends on a beach in Costa Rica or Panama!
Essentially, the main trick to dreaming in Spanish is having maximum exposure and thinking in Spanish as much as possible, and this is all more likely if you live and work in a Spanish speaking environment.
In doing so, you will make Spanish speaking friends which will in turn limit the amount of English that you hear. They express themselves, laugh, and communicate with you in words that are 100% Spanish. You therefore minimise the chances of seeing them appear in your dreams speaking in English! This is obviously possible, we all know how our dreams can be (often) weird.
But if there is a chance for you to finally dream in Spanish, know that it will certainly be through your friends and other acquaintances with whom you share your daily life. You may subsequently dream of conversations or experiences that you have had, or want to have, with them.
So before you start dreaming in Spanish, increase your exposure to the language, and try to think and interact as much as you can in Spanish. And remember, when you have your first dream in Spanish, you are well on your way to fluency!