Sometimes I dream in different languages, especially Spanish. But the funny thing is, although I’ve been actively studying Spanish for a couple of years now; I am not fluent in anything but English. In these dreams, I both understand and speak the language, and the words are crystal clear. I wonder how that could be.
Psychology Today reported online about an article titled "In Your Dreams" by Stephen Dutch PhD, who claims you don't have to be fluent in another language to dream it. He says you only have to hear it, and even if you don’t think you’re actively remembering what you’ve heard; the subconscious can record information and have it show up sometime later, especially in dreams.
It could also be Freud’s theory of dreams as unfulfilled desires. In other words, want to speak fluent Spanish, but have yet to accomplish it.
However, Dutch calls dreams nothing more than “random memory bumps,” which have the capacity for dredging up all kinds of information stored in our memory banks, including blips of language, which in my case, I’ve heard on the radio, on TV, in movies, and in live conversations both in the U.S. and in Mexico.
Learning a different language isn’t easy, of course, which is why I didn’t absorb as much as I might have when I began learning Spanish in high school. But now, I notice that mindfulness and intent listening have made a difference in how quickly I retain certain words and phrases. I used to only half-listen to others speak Spanish because I didn’t have the patience for understanding only every third or fourth word. But now I force myself to breathe deeply as I listen to the words, even though I may not understand completely.
It also helps to have discovered an app for my iPhone called Duolingo, which won iPhone App of the Year in 2013 and Google’s Best of the Best in 2013 and 2014. It breaks things down so simply and in such an engaging way that I feel like I’m playing a game. It’s actually become my go-to for moments of relaxation, while I might otherwise do something mindless. You don’t have to know a thing to begin, and there are both graphics and audio that make it memorable. The repetition doesn’t hurt either. All I have to do is sit down and do it, although I find myself doing it whenever I have a spare 10 minutes. In fact, it’s become a bit of an addiction because there’s no stress and no anxiety related to choosing the wrong answer. You can even practice pronunciation by imitating both a man’s voice and a woman’s voice.
The City University of New York and the University of South Carolina conducted an independent study that makes a pretty convincing case for the award-winning app. Participants took a placement test at the beginning and at the end of the study to see how much they learned, and discovered that an average of 34 hours spent on Duolingo is the equivalent of attending a college course for 11 weeks (one semester).
Now I’m really hooked! Of course, the negative side of this practice is having one more reason to be tethered to my phone, though at least it’s productive. I also look forward to much more bilingual dreaming.