top of page

Bilingualism and Dreaming

Bilingualism, the ability to fluently communicate in more than one language, intriguingly influences not only waking cognitive and social functions but also the realm of dreams. Here we will look at the fascinating relationship between bilingualism and dreaming, focusing on how being bilingual can affect the content, language, and nature of dreams, providing insights into cognitive processes that continue to operate even during sleep.

The phenomenon of dreaming in multiple languages is a common experience among bilingual individuals. Research suggests that the language used in dreams often depends on the dreamer's emotional context and the language associated with specific experiences or memories. For instance, a bilingual person might dream in their second language when the dream scenario relates to situations or people linked with that language, such as work or friends from a foreign country. This switch can reflect the brain's associative processes, where language serves as a bridge connecting emotions and specific linguistic contexts.

Furthermore, the frequency and ease with which bilinguals switch languages in their dreams correlate with their level of proficiency and emotional connection to each language. Proficient bilinguals, who are equally comfortable in both languages, may experience more frequent switching in dreams, mirroring their waking language-switching behaviors. This fluidity in dream language use exemplifies the deep level of cognitive integration of multiple languages and suggests that the bilingual brain remains active even during sleep.

Dreams can also serve as a cognitive rehearsal space where bilinguals consolidate language skills. The neurolinguistic activities involved in dreaming about different languages may help strengthen the neural pathways associated with each language. Just as sleep supports memory consolidation in general, for bilinguals, it can specifically aid in solidifying language acquisition. This is particularly significant in light of evidence that sleep facilitates the processing of complex linguistic information, such as new vocabulary and grammar rules acquired during the day.

Additionally, the content and emotional tone of dreams often reflect the dreamer's cultural affiliations and personal identities, aspects deeply intertwined with language. Bilinguals might experience dreams that blend cultural elements from different linguistic backgrounds, creating hybrid cultural scenarios that reflect their unique bicultural or multicultural identities. These dreams can provide critical insights into how bilingual individuals negotiate their cultural identities, showing the internalization of diverse cultural norms and values facilitated by multilingual proficiency.

In conclusion, the interaction between bilingualism and dreaming is a complicated relationship that illuminates the influence of language on cognitive functions. For bilingual individuals, dreams are not only a manifestation of their waking life linguistic experiences but also a dynamic space where those experiences are processed, consolidated, and often creatively reinterpreted. Understanding the nuances of how bilingualism impacts dreaming can enrich our broader comprehension of the cognitive complexities associated with managing multiple languages, revealing yet another layer of the profound ways in which language shapes human experience.


✦Burkes, B.D. (2022). The Language-Dream Relationship in Multilinguals [Unplished doctoral dissertation]. Dissertations. 665.

✦Lum, W. (W.) K., & Wade, J. (2016). Dreaming in two worlds and two languages: Bilingual dreams and acculturation challenges. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 35(2), 1–16.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page