Last night I dreamt that I was in Colombia. I knew I was in Colombia, even though I was in a large, florescent-lit room, surrounded by a committee of people preparing for a party. I was wearing a dress and scurrying about the room, making plates of appetizers filled with grapes and cheese and crackers.
I wanted to set my bag down–the navy blue backpack that I bought at a night market in Taiwan–but I was paranoid that someone would steal it. I asked a woman in the room–in English–where I could put it, and she directed me upstairs to a desolate room with white walls and two gray couches. Several bags were shoved behind the couches, and I hesitatingly set mine next to them.
I returned downstairs to see guests filing into the room. They all seemed bored, wondering when the food would be ready–much like the Wine Party I recently attended at my university. I hurried to serve the food to the guests, but at the same time, I kept thinking about my backpack upstairs.
I set down the tray of food and ran upstairs to the desolate room, now containing a few people. I peered behind the couch and noticed that my backpack was missing. I frantically approached a woman in the room. “Hola,” I said. She greeted me back in Spanish, but she looked Korean. I expressed concern about my missing backpack, wondering if she had seen anyone take it. I realized that I was speaking to her in Korean, and when I tried to switch to Spanish, I couldn’t. I kept apologizing, but she just nodded politely, seeming to understand what I was saying.
I woke up confused. Where the hell is my bag? I thought. After realizing that I was dreaming, I felt a wave of relief. Then I thought, Was I just speaking Korean in my dream? Holy shit. However, shortly afterwards, I was sad that I couldn’t recall any Spanish, even though I was in a subconscious state. I experienced this array of emotions all within the time frame of about 10 seconds.
This is the first time I’ve ever spoken Korean in a dream. Although I can’t recall exactly what I said, I’m thrilled this happened. However, I think this dream is foresight into the extent of my second language learning abilities.
I don’t want to believe it, but I have a strong feeling that once I move to Colombia and begin speaking Spanish everyday, I’m going to forget all the Korean I’ve learned. At first, I know that the Korean words will automatically come to mind, but after awhile, I’m afraid that they’ll fizzle away, like a can of soda cracked-open and left on a countertop overnight. It’s happened before. In high school, I studied Spanish, but the summer after my third year, I lived with a host family in Italy. When I returned to Spanish class my senior year, I confused all my Spanish vocabulary with Italian. After some time, I forgot all the Italian I’d learned, and once again, replaced all my Italian vocabulary with Spanish. Now that I’ve been living in Korea and learning Korean, I’ve forgotten much of my Spanish vocabulary. Sigh…The first world problems of a traveler.
Because I began learning a second language when I was 15 years old, my brain seems to have two switches: English and foreign language. I love learning languages, but I’m not naturally talented at it. And my lack of exposure to foreign languages as a child certainly doesn’t help. At this point in my life, I am nowhere near bilingual. My Korean skills are limited, and my Spanish speaking skills have been suppressed for several years. In order to become bilingual, I realize that I need to choose one language and stick with it.
When I move next month, I’m going to be immersed in Spanish and Colombian culture, but I don’t want to completely let go of the Korean I’ve learned. Korean is a beautiful language, and I’ve put a lot of time, energy and effort into this pursuit. I’m sure I won’t forget everything, but if I don’t make a solid effort to watch Korean movies, write to friends, or find someone to speak with, I’m sure the words that I once used on a daily basis will slip through my fingers faster than a handful of sand at the beach.
But who knows, maybe there’s a Korean meet-up group in Barranquilla, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I encounter some crazy Hallyu followers who are dying to bust out their Big Bang CD collection or share their knowledge of Korean drama phrases.
What language(s) do you dream in? How does your background and experience with foreign language study contribute to your learning capabilities?
-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ www.mappingwords.com. All rights reserved.