Speaking a foreign language or an accent out of the blue: our brain miracles.

Sometimes you learn a foreign language for years and then realize that you can’t use it productively because of the Foreign Language Anxiety or numerous language phobias. These psychological reasons just block parts of your brain responsible for speaking a language. But there are also known cases that parts of the brain were unblocked and a person spoke a foreign language he hadn’t used before or acquired a particular accent out of the blue. Unfortunately it happens only after a stroke or any kind of a brain damage and still remains a puzzle for scientists.

Aphasia usually restrains people from communicating normally in their own language. But this 81-year-old Englishman could suddenly speak fluent Welsh after a stroke although he spent only a few months in Wales during evacuation as a child. A teenager from Croatia forgot her mother tongue after a coma but could perfectly communicate in German. She had been learning German in school but her level was far from Advanced. Does it mean that the brain looks for ways to survive without a mother tongue? So it reveals everything it absorbed from the foreign language in the past? It is the only explanation that I find somehow reasonable.

The scientists shed some more light on the other enigmatic cases connected with the Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a speech disorder that causes a sudden change to speech so that a native speaker is perceived to speak with a ‘foreign” accent. The change can come about as a result of stroke, a bop on the head, brain injury, migraine headache, multiple sclerosis, or apparently, anesthesia.

There have been less than 100 cases of FAS registered which makes it even more disturbing. The first known case of FAS happened during World War II, when a Norwegian woman was hit by shrapnel and developed a German accent. It was kind of ironic at that time and she was suspected of being a spy even by her close people. A few years ago, 35-year-old Sarah Crowell, also British, had a migraine that triggered a Chinese accent. Other documented accent changes include switches from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, Spanish to Hungarian and American to Russian. Unlike aphasia victims people with FAS have never been to the countries which accents they acquire.

It may seem cool to be able to speak with some glamorous French accent but people who have experienced it wouldn’t agree. Foreign accent syndrome is not a life-threatening condition, but those who suffer from it may feel frustration when they hear themselves or even have agoraphobia, the fear of crowds and public spaces.

Check out yourself confessions from people with FAS:

Some scientists say that speech disorder in these cases has nothing to do with the foreign accents and people just try to put labels to make sense of the unusual phenomenon. Some people believe that those with FAS used to live in the countries connected with the accent in their past lives and the first Google suggestion is “FAS and reincarnation”. It is for you to decide which side to take but I wish you to be always healthy and learn languages and accents putting some effort into it.

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[Русский]

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