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Spanish dreams

Written By: Youki on March 11, 2009 6 Comments

Do you dream in different languages?

It rarely happens to me, but last night I dreamt in Spanish.  Which is pretty interesting because I’d hardly consider myself fluent in Spanish, although I did grow up learning Spanish along with English (and a bit of Japanese).  I grew up in downtown Los Angeles — all my neighbors spoke Spanish, and my preschool (Centro de Niños) and first couple years of elementary school consisted of predominantly Spanish-speaking students and teachers.  I remember watching Sábado Gigante and the occassional novela (Spanish daytime soap) when my friend’s mother was watching it.  So while I’ve gotten fairly out-of-practice, Spanish still feels and sounds natural to me.

So last night I dreamt I was in a saloon, playing poker.  I don’t usually play poker, and I’m 100% certain the dream came from an article I read last night on Poker (“Flop” in The Medium blog – I thought it would be an article on technology or books in decline!).  I find myself in a saloon, very Old West feel with dirt roads and cowboys.  I’m watching two people play a game in which one person guesses the suit color of the next card in the deck, and the other person reveals it.  The suit colors, as usual, are black and red.  Except they’re calling them “negro y blanco” (black and white).  Now, the odd thing is that this isn’t a case of me being unable to translate “red” in Spanish.  I’m not seeing red and mistranslating into blanco.  The problem lies with the people playing the game — they’re calling the cards white when the cards are red.

So I ask one of the players why they’re calling the cards white instead of red.  Except I do it in Spanish.  This is where things get really interesting.  I can understand them perfectly when they speak Spanish, but I myself am having a difficult time forming the sentences.  “y porque… ustedes… se llaman… las cartas… rojo y blanco… y no rojo y negro?”  This mirrors my real-life ability to understand conversational Spanish fairly decently (as long as I have enough context), but inability to speak it very well.  They look at me blankly.  I’m expecting them to tell me a story about how the word “rojo” was banned for whatever reason, but they just go back to playing cards.

The rest of the dream was pretty uneventful.  I walk outside, find out that the saloon is in the middle of a desert, and then wake up.

Do you dream in different languages?  Are you a different person when you dream in a different language?  Do certain dreams invoke different languages?  I invite you to write about it!

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6 Responses to “Spanish dreams”

  1. daveski on: 13 March 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Really interesting that you dreamed in Spanish…in a way I’m surprised you remember what was actually said rather than just the ‘resonance’ or impression of having spoken and listened to Spanish. And the fact that the words are linked to such strong colors…

    On one of my posts a while ago, when I was staying in France for a month as an almost non-speaker of French, I remember going to bed every night with words or impressions of words buzzing in my mind, but this would only happen in the liminal state between awakenness and sleep. For some reason I just don’t remember my dreams that well (sigh).

  2. katie_k on: 13 March 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Just last weekend I had a dream in French. It was actually related to the URAP stuff I’m doing at the moment (we were in the computer lab, and there wasn’t a single technical problem in sight – amazing!) and I just casually started talking in French – about what I don’t remember – but I do remember someone saying that I spoke really well and that I must have lived in France at some point. So overall a very very very nice dream.

    I do occasionally dream in French. However, with Russian it’s a completely different experience. In French, it’s plausible that I know what I’m saying and what’s being said. (Just like Youki is able to understand the Spanish.) But the one time I remember dreaming in Russian, there is absolutely no way I could have known the words for what I was talking about (I even remember my dream self being surprised at my dream vocabulary skills). Yet there I was, discussing some major world issue (I can’t remember what) with complete ease. The sense of absolute freedom was incredible, I can still feel it. I’ve never had that sense in real life Russian (though hope makes me think: “some day…”) but I did reach a moment in French, where it just felt right to be speaking French and I didn’t feel constrained by my lack of fluency. It’s certainly a different interpretation of “free speech”. Anyhow, it was a great feeling to have for Russian, even if it was only a dream!

  3. sharonmerritt on: 14 March 2009 at 9:07 am

    I don’t recall having dreamt in Spanish in a while, since I haven’t been regularly immersed in the language for a couple of years. I was recently in Mexico collecting dissertation data for a week, and it was an intense enough immersion experience, and long enough, that it could have triggered the kind of dreaming I’ve done in the past, though like daveski, I often don’t remember my dreams.

    I do recall many times when, like Youki, I feel very aware of forming sentences, as though I am using my dream to practice speaking in specific (though sometimes odd) language situations–sometimes the practice goes smoothly and I feel satisfied, sometimes not so, just like in real life. And I felt aware that I was shifting identities as I changed languages. But that is true of me in waking life as well–I am a different person in Spanish than I am in English. Some of my Spanish friends have commented on that in the past when they have heard me in both languages. Would be interesting to hear about people’s experience with identity-shifting connected to language use in waking life.

  4. Youki on: 21 March 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Dreamt in Spanish again last night, but this one was different. I dreamt that Dave had written a post in Spanish, and I remember thinking to myself “I should reply in Spanish” and thinking about how difficult that would be. I don’t remember any of the text, though, and I’m not sure if it’s a memory issue or if I was simply looking at the words and recognizing them as being Spanish without knowing what the words actually meant (the same way we can often recognize a language without knowing what the words mean).

  5. Maria Magkou on: 19 April 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Hi! Dreaming in a language is a good sign, I think, it has often happened to me. I also find myself babbling to myself in the language I am learning- I guess I am practicing the language. I also think its amazing when I am speaking in a language to someone who is also bilingual or knows the languages I know and then forget which language I was just speaking!

  6. Spanish boy on: 15 May 2009 at 2:58 am

    very interesting post. I am half Danish half Mexican and have been studying german and english for many years so my dreams sometimes get very confusing – mixing languages and people from different countries.
    Another strange thing about languages and dreams is that in your dreams other people can be “speaking” lanagues you don’t even understand or at least that has happened to me many times.

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