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language learning in the digital age

The link between dreaming and language learning

Posted on July 9, 2014 by

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dreaming and language learningEver wondered about the link between dreaming and language learning?

You’ve probably heard people talk about the moment when they started to dream in a foreign language. It’s often considered a sign of fluency. In the 1980s, Canadian psychologist Joseph De Koninck observed that students of French who spoke French in their dreams earlier made progress faster than other students.

But were they quicker because they dreamed, or did they dream because they were quicker?

Psychologists and neuroscientists have tried to investigate the link between dreaming and language learning, but it’s difficult to pin down what happens in dreams. Some people report speaking fluently in a dream in a language they can barely speak when awake. Dreamers are unreliable witnesses.

The subconscious mind is capable of amazing things, like with the coma patient who forgot her native language and woke up speaking German. Maybe while you’re learning a new language your brain is busily storing away all the information that your conscious mind cannot absorb and it all spills out when you’re asleep?

Or maybe not.

The point is, it’s tough to prove either way. Whether dreams have any real psychological or physiological purpose is still hotly debated. Common hypotheses for why we dream include as a way of solving problems, processing information, or getting rid of stuff the brain doesn’t need.

 

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

 

Partly because science struggles to explain dreams, they remain a glimpse into the numinous. They perform important culturally-specific functions: think of shamans using dreams to heal people or predict the future, and the continuing pull of New-Age mysticism.

Maybe dreaming in another language is an expression of our desire for linguistic and cultural ‘insiderness’, tapping into the sense of belonging that a new language can bring. Whether you consider it a linguistic milestone or not, it definitely indicates a strong awareness of and engagement with new language.

 

Extreme dreaming

dreaming and language learning

So could sleep-learning (hypnopaedia), when you listen to tapes while sleeping, be effective?

Although a recent study claims it could, the short answer is no. Research has largely discredited it. “Disturbing sleep patterns in this way requires the brain to remain alert to listen, preventing you from attaining the sort of deep sleep which is actually so important for the mind,” says Florence Cardinal of Canada’s National Sleep Foundation.

She recommends revising material before bed several times and letting the brain do its work while sleeping.

The average human sleeps 8 hours a night for 75 years. That’s 220,000 hours. What if you could actively use that time?

Welcome to the world of Lucid Dreaming, when you know you’re dreaming and you can control it.

This controversial claim was coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden and has spawned an industry of people happy to help you “explore your dreamworld, fulfil any fantasy, and tap into your creative genius” – for a fee.

It does have some scientific credentials. British parapsychologist Keith Hearne demonstrated in the 1970s that someone in a lucid dreaming state could make deliberate eye movements, and further studies from Stanford’s Stephen LaBerge have shown that brain activity during a lucid dream is different from that of an ‘ordinary’ dream. Skeptics question whether lucid dreaming is actually sleeping, or more like a meditative state.

Lucid dreamers acknowledge that you can’t learn new information – like words you’ve never heard – in a dream. But you could, for example, make a conscious decision to revise vocabulary, practice verbs, or have a conversation with an imaginary person in their language.

Just think of it like having Babbel’s review manager handy while you sleep!

For added fun, why not drop by Jan Born’s office at the University of Tübingen? He’s found that running a small electric current through the heads of sleeping people increases their memory retention by 8%. Kids, don’t try this at home.

What languages do you dream in? Are you a lucid dreamer? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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Comments

I´m Portuguese native speaker from Brazil but I can speak Spanish and English fluently.I live near Uruguay border,so when I need to use my Spanish,it comes naturally,even watching TV.But when I find myself in a situation I need to talk in English ,I fear making some mistake,turning it more difficult to get speaking fluence.Sometimes I try to watch some cartoons in English,but I only understand when I know something about the story.I always rather games in English,but I need to enable the subtitles (in English) to understand.My dream is to go to Europe,in special,to Scotland and I´ve been wondering about living in Argentina.So, 90% of my dreams happen in some other country ,but it gets more realistic when I start to speak English fluently or Spanish.

Scotland’s great. Weather’s probably a little different from what you’re used to. Sounds like you’re doing well with your English – don’t worry if you don’t understand everything yet, using subtitles or watching something you’re already familiar with is a good way to ease yourself into the language.

I have tried learning French since High school. In High school I couldn’t speak a word but I was really good at the grammar part. I’m now in my 60′s and still trying to learn French. I speak as much as I possible know around the house, to my husband and to the dogs. I’m trying really hard but it definitely isn’t coming easily. Would love to know if there is someway to make it easier.

Hey Micki. Have you tried our French courses? Go to http://www.babbel.com and you can do a lesson for free. Reading French newspapers is good – failing that, try kids’ books or comics. Maybe join a French language group if there’s any in your area? Let us know how you go!

ı would lıke to learn german ,amerıcan englısh accent and turkısh

continued from previous entry
I was at grandmas house when I was 12//14 house, now I am 77.
They spoke German occasionally I find myself speaking full fluent sentences in German. It happened to me a short time ago while speaking to my son on the phone. He remarked and laughed asked me what I had said. He said he surmised it was something like that when I translated it back to him upon his request. He asked me when I studied German I said I never did. So definitely is true that this does float around in the subconscious. Grandma passed in 1953 now that is 61 years ago and here I spoke German. I do not have the answer as to why? I do not have any form of dementia or other mental health problems thankfully. Does anyone know why???Where??? How come???

I want to learn German in my sleep!! How much geld for a trial ?

Free for you, Charlie. Just hit the books before you go to sleep, and see how much you retain the next day. Lucid dreaming, however – you’re on your own there… ;)

I lived in Spain for 2 years, sixty years ago, I am 82, I dream often in Spanish but I have no practice here in South Africa becaus nobody speaks Spanish here ! Here its does’nt looks like the second language after English !

Every once in a while I start having random simple conversations in French in the middle of my dreams after studying it. When I wake up, I find it strange and awesome how well I’d pulled off the simple conversation.

I like come to Turkish but here
Is Iran so prablem for$;

This soudns great – how much does it cost?

Hi Mandie – we’re not actually selling anything to help you learn while you sleep. In fact, the science tends to dismiss it.

What we CAN recommend is using Babbel in the evening, some time before you sleep. This may well aid in retention and memory processing.

I spoke Polish as a small child, but as I grew older, opportunities to use it became fewer and farther between, so I eventually forgot most of it. However, though it has been fifty years now, I am told that occasionally I talk in my sleep, and when I do, I still speak Polish. I do not remember these dreams. However, in the 1970s, I took up the study of Italian from a book called “Italian Made Simple.” A month after starting the study, I dreamed in Italian. I don’t remember which song it was now, but it was a popular American tune translated into Italian. Also in the 1970s, I studied Latin in college, and to this day I still occasionally dream in Latin. When awake, I only remember a few words in each language, but in my dreams it seems I am quite fluent. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just my dream-mind that thinks I’m fluent and what’s really being said is just gibberish. I can’t even verify the Polish, because the person who heard me does not speak the language and so cannot tell me what I have said; just that it sounds like Polish.

Interesting JMC. That is the catch, isn’t it – is it just your dream-mind or are you really fluent? It’s a very difficult proposition to test. Who knows how much of the language is still floating around, somewhere, in your unconscious mind?

I have been studying French and Spanish . And will continue to learn these. However I would like to see Amharic, and Perhaps Hebrew available as well. Especially Amharic.

Perhaps, babbel could come out with series of foreign language lalabies, or perhaps short stories accompanied by soothing music to listen in bed before sleep

Great idea Lena! We don’t have any lullabies yet, but we are doing tongue-twisters… check out our Facebook page to see them.

Year ago I studied French for 6 months in the US military language school at Monterey CA. The course was oriented mostly for written (not aural) translation, but toward the end of the course, and for a couple months after it, I did most of my (remembered) dreaming in French.
I am now studying Spanish and hope to start dreaming in that lingo soon.

I have spoken Spanish in my dreams several times, and fluently it seemed. I would be in a dream then woke up still speaking it still, until i really come to. I think it mostly happened when i was actively trying to speak it at work. Maybe its the words your conscious mind never picked up, but subconscious did. Whatever it isits encouraging!

I need to learn Indonesian but but seems like the only spare time I get is when I sleep
Hmmmm
Can you hep

Well Bill, have you tried Babbel’s indonesian course? You can try it for free here.

do you have any plans to include bulgarian as a language to learn?

Not at the moment Jim, but I’ve passed your comment along as a feature request.

I need to speak english fluently
And i Want to Stay on london for One month to CAN speach english on fluently

I love to speak german, but I am not too dedicated to it because,it will require some time to really master german. And I have not paid nothing here on babbel since I am not so sure yet, then I decided to use other available apps first, before I proceed to pay for further study.

I am Polish and it is almost a year since I moved to Netherlands.

I do not speak Dutch so my everyday language is English but all my dreams are only in Polish (never in English).

But funny thing is that when I dream about someone speaking Dutch it is just a “mumbo-jumbo” that do not sound even close to real Dutch :)

I remember the times when i had started reading English novels to improve my vocabulary and i would fall asleep reading. What used to happen next, though not very often, has been well supported by the statement of Florence Cardinal of Canada’s National Sleep Foundation. I spoke English in my dreams with an amazing fluency ! But, what baffles me till date is, how could i speak on a topic i never was aware of !?!

I am Belgian and speak Dutch, English, Spanish, French and German…..i live in Indonesia now and would like to learn Indonesian BUT i already tried to order the course from Babbel 2 times with VISA payment, which 2 times failed….and i do not try 2 times at the same moment because paying through the internet is too risky ! Babbel should create MORE ways of payment than JUST visa !!!

If there was some program where you would do something before you go to sleep so your brain could function it by itself, I would definitely try it.

Liam
-English > Danish-

I am completely bilingual and biliterate in English and Spanish. I started speaking Spanish when I was 12. I think I was 18 before I ever dreamed in Spanish. I have now worked as a Spanish medical interpreter for 4 years, and I now dream in Spanish about once a week. I’ve gotten used to it, but it’s still always a pleasant surprise! I just started studying Swedish, so I’ll be curious to see what kind of conversations I dream about now! :)

I speak English and learned French in high school. During my second year of French, I randomly started hearing unrelated words in my dreams that I knew were French. Those words tended to be the ones I remember the most.

Now I am learning German, and just recently I had a dream where I had a short conversation with someone in German. Since then I hadn’t had a dream in any foreign language. I ought to try the lucid dreaming study trick; I lucid dream fairly often, and I could definitely figure out which words/phrases I know by heart.

I speak English and Mandarin and am currently learning German. Notwithstanding, I took 7 years of Spanish in High School and two years of French in Uni ( I would not count the latter two as competent in speaking ability). A little while I ago I woke up in the morning and in one sentence there was French, English, Spanish, German, and Mandarin…. my thoughts kept shifting in and out of the vocabulary I knew from each language. Its because of that I refuse to be spoken to before I’ve had three cups of coffee in the morning hahahaha!

I’m so envious of all of you. I am a native English speaker from the United States, you know that place that insists everyone speak English, even in their own (other) country? I WISH I had been forced to learn another language in school. I am now struggling to learn Spanish, and as easy as I used to THINK Spanish was going to be, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to master.

I can`t improve my English..how can anybody manage to speak fluent another languages ??? AAAAAAAAAAADream ?????
I feel never can speak fluent :(

I am Portuguese and speak English fluently. I have started to learn German and i find myself speaking often to me in English when i am thinking out loud and in German when i am in bed, just remember waking up surprised that i could speak so much and so fluent…i wish it could be just like this in real life!

I speak some german my first language is english and irish.I have not used irish for many years and yet if I cannot think of a word when speaking german i automatically substitute an irsh word in its place not an english word.

Hi everyone, I knew sleeping helps the mind to improve our foreign language skills and learning a new language prevent us from Alzheimer’s disease… I remember dreaming in English two or three times,, I love Italian, but I haven´t dreamt in Italian… I must say that when Michael Jackson died, I dreamt about him,, I was asking him some questions but in English,, what I think it’s that “soul” is also involved in dreams.. /I don´t know how to explain it),,

When Babbel gets close to finding THE way of transferring linguistic data in a usable state-in-mind, remember I’m on your list!

But by the time we have access to such technology, it likely would already have been used by FBI, etc. in a warfare capacity, changing their war mongering enemies into “loving neighbors!”

Hello from France!
I am a Polish learner for one year now!
I can tell you that i can have in my dreams simple conversations in Polish now!
This is a sign that the brain assimilated this new language.
This is a strange feeling but i like it!
Good luck to you all!
Daniel

And Dutch.

@Laura I’m in the exact same situation. When I dream, I talk, but not in a language I understand. But I still understand everything. Sadly, I never woke up speaking a foreign language fluently. I do speak English, French and a little bit of Greek.

I can speak two languages fluently, but when I dream its not in a specific language. It is more like I know what I’m saying to the person and I know what their response is, but its not in words??? Does that make sense?? I am always asked what language I think in and its the same, its more pictures or I just know what is happening without language or words!

I don’t think I’m a lucid dreamer, however I occasionally dream in english language, a foreign language for me. And as I wake up I surprise how fluently I spoke. It’s amazing!

I want to learn english because i like it.

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