Summary: Researchers are investigating how bilingualism and multilingualism affect the language in which we dream.
Very few studies have been done on bilingualism and multilingualism and how these affect dreams. These are small studies, but they certainly find that people who speak a second language, even without good proficiency, at least occasionally dream in the second language.
One study asked the subjects what they thought made the difference, and they said it was determined by the people and/or the environment they dreamed of.
If you were to think of your family in your country of origin, it would probably be in that language, regardless of whether it was your dominant language. And if you dreamed about people you knew as a young adult who lived in a different environment where you spoke a different language, you would dream in that language.
It was a combination of where the dream took place, what language was associated with it, and what people were in the dream – that’s what they said it did.
But I’ve heard others say that if they dreamed about important emotional issues, they would dream in their native language, and if they dreamed about practical, abstract, or work-related things, they would dream in their newer language.
I heard something different from the most multilingual person I’ve ever spoken to. He was a high-level Swedish economist, and he said he was fluent in about 15 languages. He said he dreamed in whatever language he spoke that day, even if the dreams were about his family of origin in Sweden.
There’s something I’ve never seen in any of the published studies on this, which is that there are people who say they’re never aware of language in dreams – that they don’t dream in a particular language. I very much identify with that.
Usually I don’t hear language in my dreams. I’ve only dreamed in a language other than English a handful of times, which matches the findings of some studies that say your proficiency in a second language determines how often you will dream in it.
I studied French in school but I am not a proficient speaker. I dreamed at least twice in French.
People who do not speak a foreign language sometimes say that they once or several times dreamed in the rudimentary second language, and in the dream they thought that they were very good at it. When people talk about it, it’s usually along the lines of, “Why can we speak our dreams so much more fluently?”
Dream psychologists, especially neuroscientists, say this is probably because the prefrontal area responsible for the reality checks has shut down. It is possible that they are more adept at the dream, but it is also possible that they feel better in the dream because they are not giving the usual self-judgment.
I think dreams are best thought of as thinking in a different biological state, where areas related to visualization and emotion are more active than usual intuition, which is why we are less verbal and less logical when we dream.
There are a few theories that say that dreams are there for memory consolidation, for threat simulation, and for wish fulfillment. And yes, they are for all that, and a million other things, just like our waking mind.
About this linguistic and dreaming research news
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