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What language do you dream in?

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Posted on 
January 25, 2021

Dreams: we’re lucky to have them but luckier to remember them. Wouldn’t you agree?

From magnificent to petrifying, lucid to irrational, vivid to faint, dreams come in all depths and colours, and so do their interpretations. Some people have the capacity to recall specific and detailed aspects of them, but sadly, the majority of us are able to remember only small and scattered fragments of our dreams, if we remember them at all. And while dreams have many layers to them, making them a very complex topic, there’s one particular element about them I’m both fascinated and intrigued by: the language we dream in.

Communication is all around us, even when we’re dreaming. After all, dreams are beautiful, fantastical, intangible images loaded with messages, often urging us to go in search of answers and meaning. The experiences lived in our dreams are as real as the people, the places, the sounds, the tastes, the smells and the emotions we encounter in them. Another interesting component of dreams is the language that’s spoken in them. While monolingual individuals might immediately jump to the “obvious” answer when asked what language they dream in, surprisingly, that isn’t necessarily the correct one. Bilinguals and polyglots, on the other hand, might not be so quick to answer.

In my personal experience, the language spoken in my dreams is reflective of the people I meet and the environment I find myself in. To my pleasant surprise, when I temporarily lived in Italy, I more than once woke up delighted to find I had been dreaming in Italian. While I already spoke the language, dreaming in la dolce lingua was a first and likely due to all the exposure and immersion I was experiencing. If I’m dreaming about a parent or family member for example, I naturally dream in Spanish, for it’s my mother tongue. If I’m dreaming about friends or about being in an English-speaking environment such as work, I dream in English. If I’m in a mixed crowd and or place, much like in real life, the lingua franca will be English as well. However, that’s not to say that I haven’t dreamt about speaking or hearing other languages while deep asleep.

Peculiarly enough, I’ve dreamt in languages I neither speak nor recognize. This has seldom happened, but when it has, it’s been impossible to jot the words or sounds down, for the dream whisks me away before I can hold on to it. So while I may not be able to provide you with a concise list of words from an exotic, new language acquired by my subconscious, I’m here to share with you that it’s entirely possible to dream in a language other than your own. In my case, I dreamt in German on one occasion and in another language I’m not quite able to distinguish or sure actually exists.

One thing is for certain though: there’s no right or wrong in dreams. For this and plenty more reasons, I encourage you to pay attention to your dreams, and in particular the language spoken in them, the next time you recall something specific about them. It might be helpful to keep a dream journal on your nightstand in order to keep track of them; you might be surprised at what you find out. So to conclude I say, “dream on”—literally, not figuratively, that is.

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The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

About the author

Lina Peralta

Lina Peralta

Lina was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and has called Montréal home for 20 years. With a background in modern languages and over 10 years of experience in the air travel industry, she has been able to pursue her passions for travel, language and food. In addition to English and French, Lina is fluent in Spanish and Italian. A lover of language with a knack for writing, she is delighted to contribute to the Language Portal of Canada.

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So true! I have never paid attention to the language of my dreams – just their content. Excellent food for thought. I will pay attention next time!

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