Learning languages? Dream on!? 言語習得は夢話?

As you can see on the left side-bar, I recently set up a counter for the most popular posts on this blog, and it shows that the two most popular posts have been (and probably will continue to be) "Learning languages Tetsu's way" and "Pentalingual conversation with a linguist".

The world is getting smaller and smaller, and clearly people are more and more (and more) interested in multilingualism. For example Ping refers to my blog every once in a while. Thanks buddy! And there are also many other great websites and blogs out there about learning languages (such as The Linguist) and making language learning social networks (such as Kantalk).

Speaking of Kantalk, I follow Kantalk's founder D’s blog very closely, and recently he posted an interesting article on something that supports an idea/belief of mine. Essentially, D's post was on a recent news of a non-English speaking Czech bike racer who got into an accident and woke up with temporary amnesia and, get this, spoke not Czech, but perfect English with perfect accent. However, two days later, as his memory came back, he lost all his English.

Now, my idea/belief is that we register everything we hear into our subconscious, ALL THE TIME (this idea probably isn't new, and hopefully someone could direct me to some information on this). In a way, our mind is like a hard-drive with limitless capacity. What is important then is not to forcefully add more information by painful studying (since information probably goes in passively anyways), but rather to find ways to "retrieve" the information efficiently and to keep it ready for use all the time, like keeping it in the RAM. Of course, practising is one way, and probably the best way for now. But could psychology or neurobiology come up with some shortcuts?

You see, I believe this because I myself have experienced similar things as that biker, although I’ve not had to go through anything quite as traumatic. It’s about dreaming in foreign languages. Throughout my life people have asked me "Tetsu, what language do you dream in?" And invariably I would answer, it depends on who I am talking to in my dreams. Logical right? Even in my dreams, it makes absolutely no sense for me to talk to my parents in English or to my English friends in Japanese. But this can get out of hand when you’re talking to someone in a language that you "think" you don’t know. This is what happened to me when I was learning Spanish. I had only been studying the language for a few weeks on my own before going to Ecuador to visit my friend Greg. And there I was only able to talk to people on a very superficial level at that time. However, during my short stay in Ecuador I remember having dreams about great discussions with everybody in perfect Spanish. …but sadly everything would be gone when I woke up.

So the question is, what is it in my dreams that allowed me to speak the foreign language perfectly, while when awake, I couldn’t do it? Is it inhibition? If so, then psychological training may lead to great results. Is it neurophysiological? If so, then theoretically one could one day discover some neuronal connections or the release of some sort’a physiochemical factors to allow this to happen when awake! Either way, it would be Nobel Prize material…

Language dreamers, your comments are welcome!


世界がどんどん狭くなって行く中、多言語習得に興味を持つ人がますます増えて行っているようだ。例えば、Ping君なんかよく僕のブログを引用してくれる。ありがとうよ!そして、その他にもインターネット上には言語習得に関する素晴らしいウェブサイトやブログ(例、The Linguist)、または言葉に興味のある人々のためのソーシャルネットワーク(例、Kantalk)などがいっぱいある。

そう言えば、最近Kantalkの創立者であるDのブログに面白い記事があって、これは僕が考えているあるアイディアをサポートしてくれるものだなと思った。基本的にDの記事は、最近バイクのレースで事故って、短期記憶喪失症になったチェコのレーサーの話。この人は元々全然英語喋らないのに、 事故から目覚めてからはチェコ語が全然喋れなくって、逆に完璧な英語を完璧なアクセントで喋ったと言う。残念ながら、二日後には徐々に記憶も戻ってきて、英語も消えて行った。






Jim said...

Cool post, but I'm suspicious about dreams. How are you certain that your dreaming Spanish was perfect?

I've dreamt of things that I thought were brilliantly hilarious at the time, but when I woke up and thought about it, it wasn't remotely funny, and didn't even make any sense! :)

It seems the brain can trigger any emotion in a dream, and it feels so real and justifiable, even if the feeling is groundless.

In your dream, maybe you were just speaking Spanish-sounding gibberish, but truly felt the emotion of amazement and confidence at speaking perfect Spanish.

TETSU said...

Thanks for the comment Jim!

I knew someone was going to bring this up! But writing it into the main post would've made the long post even longer so I didn't.

You definitely poke a soft spot right there and there is no way I can prove that I was indeed speaking Spanish in my dreams. But I know that at the time, I knew enough Spanish to recognize it and distinguish it from other languages.

Now, here's also an indirect support for my claim. I think the Czech racer that D talked about started speaking perfect English without ever really having used it before, simply because some sort'a neural connection was temporarily made in the immediate moments after his accident. Something that could perhaps take place in dreams by some as yet unknown physiochemical reaction.

All speculations of course!

Thanks again. Hope you revisit and check out my other language related posts!


hiroshi said...

Tetsu san, a very interesting post. I read this post with great interest.

I think that the dream you had about speaking perfect spanish is not gibberish.
as you know, there are a lot of researches about the relatinoship between the conscious and the unconscious.
in my view, dreaming is a part of the manifestation of the unconscious.
and as you said, our brains seem to imprint any external input ( both the negative and the positive, which is called the karma in buddhist term)into the conscious and then into the unconcious. In terms of physiology, it seems that the medium between the concious and the unconcious is the autonomic nervous system that is basically involuntary and therefore subject to the unconcious or the past memories. some inexplicable physical disorders of the autonomic nervous system we often hear of, therefore, could be linked with our past memories???In a way, the unconscious serves as a repository where every information that has been accumulated so far is stored. Carl Gustav Jung called it collective unconcious ( if you are interested in the subject on the unconcious, try reading Jung and his followers), Buddhists arayashiki ( meaning the subconsious, relating to the law of Karma, cause and effect that has been stored in it).
You may think that I am nuts ( maybe, I am:) ), but I believe that there is one huge energy running in the subconscious, connecting everything with it. and that is where every knowledge or wisdom or every experiece sentient beings have had, before, during and after life, is stored and where there is neither beginning nor ending, just a cycle of life. To retrieve it, any thoughts or consciousness get in the way. that is, where there is no thought ( like when we are dreaming or in coma), this great energy comes out in many forms.

now, if my silly assumption is right, then your dream and Czech bike racer had do make sense. In both cases, when the two of you were in coma ( you were asleep and racer had fainted), you two could access to the energy of the unconscious that is the repository of every experience humans both alive and dead have had like perfect spanish you spoke or perfect english he spoke ( in my view, interpreting the karma from a wider point of view, life befoe and after death could exist, since everything is interlinked).

To support my theory, I remember a good book written by Dr Andrew Weil, entitled health and healing. ( if you have not, try reading it!)
Andrew weil cites in it two extraordinary examples, one from a Brasilian farmer named Ze arigo ( I may have misspelled??) and the other from Edger cayce, a well known supernatural doctor.
Ze Arigo, who had received education only 6 years at school ( shogakko sotu desu), had had recurrent dreams about a german doctor ordering him to treat patients. one day, he began to cure patients, based on the voices of this german doctor he heard from his dreams. Suspecious about his medical knowledge, a group of doctors from America did observe him and was amazed to see his knowledge on medicine, though he was just a farmer with little education. what is more surprising is that there are some recorded videos in which he treated cataract with a rusty kitchen knife!, just plunging it into someones eyes and then he,she felt no pain. what an extraordinary story!
On the other hand, Edgar cayce had only elementary education ( shogakko sotu desu) and yet showed incredible medical expertise while he was in trance. in fact, a lot of doctors were stunned by his accuracy of medical jargons.

here One can see the commonalities between the two: when we are in trance or our conciousness is asleep ( in dreams, for exaple), the energy is more likely to come out from the subconcoius. and another thing I noticed is that both of them had little education or knowledge. My guess is that because they did not have much knowledge, it was easier for them to access the energy from the subconcious. that is, where there is no thought, there is the energy.
I therefore believe that to create something totally new, any thoughts , what we have learned,get in the way. what we need to do is free ourselves from conditionings and unlearn what we have learned. It is in the process of breaking down the knowledge that a new thing could come into being, I think.
in this sense, creation and destrusction are two sides of the same coin, is it not????

This is all way too vague. but I know where science and mystics converge. Have you read a book titled idenshi no ango ( the genetic code??) by Kazuo Murakami who is one of the authorities on genetics and professor of tukuba daigaku. He insisted at the end of his quest for genes that there is oneness in every gene. he called it something great. as you know, Einstein came to a similar conclusion toward the end of his life.
in short,what it boils down to is that enlighted mystics and scientists are both aware of the energy ( or something great as Murakami san called it) interconnecting everything. In fact, ordinary people like me can have mushino shirase ( premonition?) that we can sense an event that is happening far away. if so, what we call time and space could be false??? I should not go into it now.

getting back to language learning and dreaming, there is an interesting reserch called suggestopedia that was popular in the 1970s, though most academics consider it crappy theory.
I think, however, that it is useful to some extent. it is kind of like putting yourself into a trance state in a dimly lit relaxed room where an instructor reads something for him, her or let them hear a target language until his target language sinks down into the subconcious. If your theory that our brains take in everything is right ( I agree with you), this theory does make sense, does it not? especially with our minds relaxed, it is natural that it is easier for us to absorb anything from outside. Yet, a problem arises: how can we retrieve it?
one of the keys I can now think of is cease any efforts to exercise our thoughts ( like analyze a grammar or other articial, time consuming things), create conditinos where we can feel relaxed and just let it flow. then somehow, somewhere, what has been programmed into the unconcious comes out naturally, thereby making it easier for us to retrieve it.
Perhaps, this is all nonsense.

sorry for a boring, lengthy post.

I wish that I could see you once after I return to Japan or elsewhere.

Gracious por su post interesante. Quisiera leer su blog mas.


TETSU said...

Hey Hiroshi!

Wow. This must be the most extensive comment I've received on my blog! Thanks!

You seem to have a lot of expert knowledge! I've never taken any psychology courses, but I've heard of Jung, Meyer, and Briggs. I actually wrote a little post on their famous personality test. Check it out! (do a little search in with "Jung" or go to Archives by Category under "Fun", I think you should find it.)

I don't know Weil, but the example is great!

As for the energy in the subconscious, I totally agree. In fact, I think the best performance for anything comes when we are able to extract this energy as you say. Whether it's speaking a new language, practising sports, writing exams, it always seems that the more relaxed and natural we can get, the more we can extract this energy... but then again, as you say, it is so hard to be complete natural and relaxed. We have been conditioned our whole life to learn up many artificial ways of thinking/acting/feeling etc. Unlearning it probably takes as long as it took to learn it up.

Maybe we should go back to suggestopedia...or...desuggestopedia as it apparently later became...

Thanks again, I learned a great deal!

Josu sierra said...

Tetsu, I've posted a similar experience in my blog, discussing with @imurua, an odd ambilingual in my opinion, about wich language is the dominant in a bilingual or if we master two with the same proficiency (ambilingual).
We placed the question of the dreams, but I suggested that this is not the key to decide about our principal language.
In my experience, all my chidhood-related dreams are in Spanish, because I've learnt Basque when I was 18.
If the dream is about work with my colleagues, now I dream in Spanish but if family is involved, I speak Basque because we use it all the time. One year ago, when I worked in international projects, I used to dream in english or french. So it depends.

TETSU said...

Thanks for the comment Josu!

Yes, you are another example supporting the observation that what we speak in our dreams can depend on the people that appear in our dreams!

Josu sierra said...

What do you think about to master the dialectal forms of the language you learnt? It seems to me, after the fluency, accuracy or grammatically correct use, one of the evidences of an expertise.

TETSU said...

I do! Ha ha, I speak Quebecer French, and Osaka Japanese (Kansai-ben), etc.! It's always fun. Y si digo "que onda guay!" "que cabron" o "ay que padre..." quiere decir que hablo el dialecto mejicano!?!? ;)

Iñaki Murua said...

I think I'm not fluent in English neither in my real life nor in the dreams :-D

TETSU said...

don't be humble... ;-)

Josu sierra said...

Tetsu, guay, cabrón an so on are not mexican dialect, it's simply colloquial language in Spanish, but you can use mexican accent of course!