Why Do People Wake Up Speaking a Foreign Language?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in another language?
There are cases of people who woke up speaking a foreign language – often one they didn’t know before.
The brain is incredible.
These People Woke up Speaking a Different Language
- Dujomir Marasovic was a 13-year-old from Croatia who woke up speaking fluent German after mysteriously falling into a 24-hour coma. She had just started studying German in school but wasn’t close to being fluent.When she woke up, she could only speak in German, however, and she couldn’t speak Croatian. She had to use a translator to speak to her parents.
- Ben McMahon was a 22-year-old Australian guy who was involved in a car crash and subsequently spent a week in a coma. When he woke up, he spoke in fluent Mandarin.He had studied Mandarin in school, but he said he wasn’t good at it. Until he woke from the coma, that is. It took him a few days to remember his English skills. He later went on a Chinese TV dating show and found a Chinese girlfriend.
- Michael Boatwright was an American tennis player who was found unconscious in a Florida hotel room. When he woke up, he could only speak in Swedish, and he said his name was Johan Ek. He didn’t even recognize his own face when he looked at a picture on an ID card.He had been to Sweden before and had a Swedish wife for a while. After he woke up speaking Swedish, he moved to Sweden and became a tennis coach there. Several months later, though, he committed suicide.
- Rueben Nsemoh was a 16-year-old from Georgia (US) who suffered a concussion while playing soccer. When he woke up, he was speaking in in fluent Spanish and had trouble remembering English.He had some familiarity with Spanish before the concussion but wasn’t well versed in it.
Why Does It Happen?
Scientists don’t know exactly why it happens. It’s called Foreign Language Syndrome (FLS), and it’s closely related to Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). FAS is when people wake up from a brain trauma speaking the same language but speaking it using a foreign accent. Over 100 cases of FAS syndrome have been recorded in the literature.
Usually, the person who wakes up speaking a foreign language has had some history of at least a little prior knowledge of the language, so some researchers believe that they’re just accessing what they used to know and forgot, or words that they’ve subconsciously picked up somewhere along the way.
The cases of FAS and FLS are classified into two types: neurogenic and psychogenic. Neurogenic is more common and happens after a stroke or a traumatic brain injury. It seems that the brain suffers damage in the middle cerebral artery and in the brain regions associated with speech (in the left hemisphere).
The psychogenic type happens when there isn’t any identifiable brain damage, but there is a psychiatric disorder, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In some of these cases, the foreign language skills come and disappear at different times.
This we do know: There’s still a lot about the brain that we just don’t know.