A few thoughts on using a language subconsciously
One recent morning, my wife told me that I had been talking in Spanish in my sleep the night before. In itself, this wasn’t too unusual, but what I said was quite strange, indeed. When she entered the bedroom, I apparently said “Ah, estás aquí. ¿No deberías estar en el Purgatorio?” (“Oh, you’re here. Shouldn’t you be in purgatory?”) I have no recollection of having said that. I’m sure I had never uttered those words before, and I can’t think of a situation in which anyone would ever say that. It’s so weird! I’ve tried to make sense of it, and although I could speculate about its meaning, dreams are often nonsensical and defy any logic. However, this experience did make me reflect on using Spanish subconsciously, as in a dreamlike state.
I have often heard people casually say that they’ll know that they’ve truly acquired Spanish when they start dreaming in the language. Why do people believe that? Is there any truth in that? To be honest, I rarely remember my dreams, and when I do, I can usually only recall images, feelings, and situations, not language. When I was a senior in college, I had a roommate who once told me about a time when he was told that he was talking in his sleep in “perfect Spanish,” even though he maybe only had a couple years of Spanish in high school. I’m a bit skeptical about the claims of using perfect Spanish while asleep if they can’t do so when awake, but I don’t think that it’s all that unusual to use a foreign language without even realizing what is being said.
In foreign language methodology courses, we often warn future teachers not to rely exclusively on fill-in-the-blank drills or other similar mechanical activities that would allow students to complete the tasks successfully without even knowing what they’re saying. This recommendation makes perfect sense to me. I will say, however, that I have acquired insights when praying the rosary in Spanish or repeating certain words or phrases in Spanish to the cadence of my steps while running, even if I’m largely ignoring the meaning of the words themselves. Of course, you could argue that any insights I acquire when doing the above activities are due primarily to the meditative practice that accompanies the recitation of the words, and I’d have to agree with you. Likewise, you can observe people who can sing along perfectly to the lyrics of a song in a foreign language, and they are perfectly content, even if they don’t know the entire meaning of the words, because of how the music makes them feel. From a relatively young age, I desired to practice Spanish, even if I had no one with whom to practice, so seemingly mindless repetition is sometimes all we have.
But can you make yourself dream in Spanish? I think the only thing you can do is make the language as much of a regular part of your daily, waking life as possible. If dreams can be a manifestation, confirmation, or revelation of our desires and what we desire is fluency in the language, there’s no reason why the language can’t play a role in that space, but let’s not be too quick to assign them more significance than what they’re worth. And don’t let the lack of multilingual dreaming make you think that you aren’t acquiring the language.
What about you? Have you ever spoken in Spanish or another foreign language while asleep? Tell us about it in the comments below.
And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on your favorite social media. ¡Gracias! ¡Nos vemos en el Purgatorio!