Did you know that going into a coma could change the language you speak?

Posted on November 02 2016 , at 12:24 pm
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  • Going into a coma or even suffering a head injury could affect the language you speak.

Reuben Nsemoh on his hospital bed
Reuben Nsemoh on his hospital bed

An American, English-speaking teenage football player, Reuben Nsemoh suffered a head injury some time in October while playing football and went into a three-day coma, only to wake up from the coma speaking fluent Spanish.

His parents did say he could speak Spanish, but only to some extent, before his concussion.

In addition, the 16-year-old said he struggled to speak English for a while after waking from the coma, explaining that every time he tried, it felt like he was going to have a seizure.

And now, he is gradually regaining his use of English but at the expense of his new-found yet short-lived Spanish fluency.

Scientists have described the case as being similar to foreign accent syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which head injuries change a person’s speech patterns, giving them a totally different accent.

Reuben Nsemoh, 16-year-old football player who woke up speaking a different language
Reuben Nsemoh, 16-year-old football player who woke up speaking a different language

The first ever reported case was back in 1941, when a Norwegian woman suffered head injuries during a German bombing run and started speaking with a German accent afterwards.

In Australia, a female bus driver got in a terrible road crash that left her with a broken back and jaw. When she woke up, she had a French accent.

Scientists have explained the seeming fluency of a person’s new accent or language as aphasia – an impairment of language usually caused by strokes.

In most cases, it results in total lack of recollection of any language at all, but scientists now speculate that it might sometimes only affect a person’s native language, making them fall back on a secondary language they may have studied for a bit and forgotten about.

After a young Croatian woke up speaking fluent German, Yale University neuroscientist, Steven Novella wrote that the aphasia could ‘theoretically have the effect of making her German seem more fluent, because she does not have to expend mental energy inhibiting her Croatian.’

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