Have you ever heard someone say, “You really know you’re fluent (or making significant progress) in Spanish when you begin dreaming is Spanish”?
I have many times. But there’s a problem. I have been speaking Spanish since 2000 and never once have I noticeably had a dream in Spanish. Heck, I’ve been dreaming since 1985 and I’m unsure I even remember speaking ANY language in any dream I’ve ever had. Does that mean I’m not even fluent in… English?!
But let’s back up for a moment. Why is it that “dreaming in Spanish” is being used as a marker for fluency in the language? My best guess is that it is viewed as an event during which subconscious, effortless use and comprehension of the language is experienced.
Our aim is certainly to make using and comprehending Spanish effortless and second-nature, but I’m unsure dreaming is the best way to gauge that. Many events that don’t make sense occur in dreams and dreaming is still largely misunderstood by researchers.
If I may, let me make a few proposals for alternative, more concrete markers of fluency in real life, in no particular order.
1. You’ve had a conversation with someone at a given point in the past and, in hindsight, you are mostly unsure if that communication happened in Spanish or your native language.
2. You are having a conversation in your native language but are suddenly stopped when you are only able to think of a word or expression in Spanish, not your native language.
3. You’ve subconsciously said something in Spanish to someone who you normally know doesn’t speak Spanish. It is then pointed out to you that said person does not understand what you’ve said, and you suddenly realize, “Oh crud! I said that in Spanish, didn’t I!?”
4. Your self-talk randomly and without intent occurs in Spanish.
5. You’ve been able to read things in Spanish, like signs or story headlines, and translating them to your native language in your head was never even a consideration. You were able to obtain meaning just from reading the Spanish. You might be able to identify this only after a non Spanish-speaking friend later asks, “What did that say?” and your natural reaction is, “Oh yeah, I didn’t realize you couldn’t understand that. Sorry!” Again, this shouldn’t just be something you say to look cool. It should have happened authentically and subconsciously.
So, what is it that all of these things have in common? Go back and read the second sentence in number five.
You were able to obtain meaning just from reading the Spanish.
That is when you know fluency is happening. When you’ve knocked down the barrier that is your native language and you’re directly associating Spanish words with their meaning, as opposed to their translation in English. Furthermore, in all of the above cases, this is happening subconsciously and in a natural context. That’s exactly how it happens for us in our native languages.
On a final note, I’ve got news for you beginners who believe that day is far too far away. You have complete control over this. I know because I’ve been there and I know because I’ve watched countless students break the bad habit. Here’s how you can begin practicing right now – today – to expedite your fluency.

Start with objects around your house; take a key, for example. Stare at it and, whatever you do, do not let the English word for that object enter your head. This will take some practice, but you CAN do it. Out loud, say, “llave” while pointing at it. Walk around your house and repeat until you’ve done this successfully with about 10 different objects. When you’re ready to take it to the next step, begin doing this with short-sentence reactions to things you read on the Internet or hear on TV. Again, don’t let your initial English reaction enter your head. You have to take control of your thoughts like never before, but it will lead to effortless fluency in short order.

Have you had your breakthrough moment in Spanish? How did it go and what does it mean to you? Please leave your story in the comments so we can discuss!