The Language of Dreams
August 10, 2004
By C. Claiborne Ray, New York Times

In what language do bilingual people dream?

It depends on a number of factors, said Dr. Jyotsna Vaid, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University. These factors include how fluent a person is in a second language, the length of residence in the country of the second language and the language of the person's elementary education.

In a study Dr. Vaid did in 2002, however, differences in the age at which the second language was acquired (either before or after the age of 8) did not make a difference in the preferred language for dreaming.

In the study, of which she was co-author, 552 Texas college students fluent in both Spanish and English were asked about their language preferences for thinking, dreaming and doing mental arithmetic. The researchers found that 78 percent of those who reported doing mental arithmetic in English said they dreamed in English only, and that 54 percent of those who did mental computations in Spanish said they dreamed in Spanish only.

The study also found that there were variable factors that significantly predicted the language of dreams. These were a higher self-reported proficiency in one language; a stay of more or less than six years in the United States; and whether Spanish or English was used in the person's early education.

The study was published in the journal Spanish Applied Linguistics.