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Can You Speak a Foreign Language in a Dream?

by Jimmy Leonard | Updated 28 May 2024

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People speaking different languages around a table
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My bilingual friends – I see you. It’s well-documented that bilingual people dream in both languages, which, you know, makes sense. But we’re focusing here on foreign languages. That is, languages that you didn’t grow up speaking, don’t know fluently, and really have no business babbling in during your dream state.

In that case, is it possible to dream that you’re speaking a different language? What does it mean if you do?

Not only is anyone’s mind capable of multilingual dreaming, but the words and grammar don’t have to make sense for the conversation to have meaning.

Speaking Another Language in Your Dream

Situation #1: You (Kind of) Know the Language in Real Life

I’m a native English speaker with very passable conversational Spanish (at least, I like to think so). Sueño is a Spanish word. That counts.

Anyway, I can get around while traveling and make small talk. I’ve definitely had dreams in Spanish only to wake up and analyze my own grammar. I’ll think things like, “Hey, I correctly used the imperfect tense. Good job, dream me!”

This, perhaps, proves a point. Because I actually know the language, my brain is drawing on memories and stored knowledge to form the scene. Not surprisingly, these dreams are more frequent when I’m traveling or I was recently in a situation where I needed to rely on my Spanish. Like most things, I dream about it more when it’s top of mind in my waking life.

If you dream about speaking a language that you do kind-of-sort-of know, it’s likely because your brain is accessing and processing that knowledge. Many people say that dreaming in a language that you’re learning is a sign that you’ve reached fluency. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a positive sign that you’re developing proficiency. Pat yourself on the back.

Situation #2: You Don't Know the Language

Let’s begin by stating the obvious: You can’t dream in a language that you literally don’t know.

For example, if you speak zero words of Japanese, you might dream about speaking Japanese, but, if it were possible to record that speech, we’d all agree that it’s not actually Japanese.

What’s interesting, however, is that we’re almost never in a situation of not knowing a language, especially if it’s a culture relevant enough to your life to dream about. To stay with my example, surely you’ve heard some people speaking in Japanese in movies or TV shows. You may have been to a Japanese restaurant lately and seen phrases on the menu or overheard a discussion and pieced together what they were saying from context clues.

This leads to a scenario where you might have a subconscious memory of the correct way to say something in a foreign language, even if consciously you’d say you don’t speak that language at all. This matters because some people report the eerie experience of saying something in a dream that they then look up later and realize was correctly phrased. How could I possibly have known that? they ask. It could have been gibberish in the dream that they’re now misremembering as “correct,” or it could have been a true subconscious recollection.

What Does It Mean To Dream in Another Language?

Dreaming in another language doesn’t necessarily have a special meeting. As mentioned, the vocabulary could just be on your mind.

As I often say, don’t focus so much on what happens but rather how it makes you feel. There’s a big difference between having a cordial conversation with someone in your dream and feeling exasperated because nobody understands you. One may be a confidence dream – that “sign of language proficiency” mentioned earlier — while the other may be an anxiety dream about communication in your life in a general sense, not even specific to whatever language featured in the scene.

Can You Learn a Language By Dreaming About It?

It’s certainly possible to practice new skills in lucid dreaming, but generally speaking, dreams are not a good environment for language processing.

For instance, a common dream sign is noticing that the time on a clock changes after you look away or that you can’t read the words on a page. Dreams aren’t typically the space for logical idea formation.

For this reason, you’ll have the best luck if you study a new language in your waking moments, when you can really focus and organize your thoughts. It’ll be exciting the first time you have a dream in that language, but don’t count on that as your strategy for developing fluency.

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Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy is a marketing content strategist and copywriter who moonlights as the editor of Sueño Labs. He's also the host of the Sueño Labs podcast. He writes about medicine, technology, and ways to sleep better.

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