According to Koma, teenagers are fluent in Spanish
For 16 years, Reuben Nsemoh spoke only English. Then he suffered a shaking of the soccer ball and changed the language. A phenomenon that has so far only been documented a hundred times.
These are the stories that start the first reading. An American teenager falls into a coma after a sports accident, wakes up several days later and suddenly does not speak English, his mother tongue, but Spanish. A language he had previously heard in his social environment but never really learned. To the surprise of his parents, he also not only broken a few words, but also fluently parted in Spanish.
Sounds unbelievable, does not it? But the story has actually happened in US media reports in Lilburn, a small 12,000-inhabitant town near Atlanta in the state of Georgia. There, last year, the 16-year-old Reuben Nsemoh was seriously injured in a football match. The goalkeeper of a team of the National Soccer League had a kick from the opposing player in the defense against an attack in the penalty area and accidentally hit a head against the head.
“I was totally shocked and panicked,” reminded the coach of Nsemoh, Bruno Kalonji, against the TV channel KTLA5 TV to the scene. “Reuben was dazed, fainted, and his breathing continued for a short time.” Later the goalkeeper had to surrender several more times. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” the coach said. “It was bad, I was afraid he would die.”
For three days the doctors fought for his life
The condition of the injured goalkeeper, who had already suffered two brain shaking in his career, worsened from minute to minute. When the alarmed emergency doctor reached the football field, Nsemoh suffered from epileptic seizures and fell into a coma. With a rescue helicopter he had to be flown to a clinic in Atlanta. For three days the doctors fought for his life.
When he woke up again, he could no longer speak his English mother tongue and spoke Spanish only for several days. And that’s fluent. “He could not do it before,” the parents assured the treated doctors.
“My friends often spoke to me in Spanish and wanted to teach me the language,” Nsemoh later tried to explain his sudden talent. He already knew a few words, but he was far from being perfect. His brother, however, was always very good in Spanish. “He always inspired me to learn the language once.”
The phenomenon of suddenly speaking another language or one’s own with a different accent is very rare and is referred to in medicine as a so-called foreign language accent syndrome (FAS). In the literature, only about 100 cases are documented. The first is from 1907 and is mentioned in a publication of a hospital in Paris.
Properly famous was a case that had apparently occurred during the Second World War. A woman from Norway is said to have spoken with a German accent during the occupation of her country by the Nazis after a brain injury.
In 2010, British newspapers reported a case of a girl from Croatia. The 13-year-old from Knin, 90 minutes north of Split, is said to have been in a coma for 24 hours. When she regained consciousness, she suddenly spoke German fluently.
Children thought the mother would make fun
Only last month, the journal “Practical Neurology” had reported another of these speech phenomena. It was about a woman from Scotland, who after a rather small dental operation had exchanged her Scottish accent against a German.
This neurological disease of the brain’s language center is triggered in 86 percent of all cases by a stroke, by multiple sclerosis or, as in the case of Reuben Nsemoh, by severe traumatic brain injury. In very few and often unambiguous cases, psychological causes such as severe depression, anxiety, or other emotional trauma can trigger FAS.
“In such patients, brain researchers are not necessarily talking about a real disease,” says Dr. Toby Yaltho of Houston Methodist Sugarland Neurology Associates against ABC News. The neurologist had last year treated a woman from Texas with FAS, who had made headlines in America nationwide.
Lisa Alamia from Rosenburg near Houston had a facial surgery in December 2015. When she awoke from anesthesia, she suddenly spoke with a British accent. Her three children thought first of all that her mother would make fun of her. And even the doctors could not believe it at the beginning.
“The big question is whether the patient actually has that accent at once or is only faking it,” says neurologist Yaltho. In the case of Lisa Alamia, the doctors assumed that the new pronunciation was not just played. Why just British, remained unanswered. Alamia lived for a long time as a missionary in Mexico and actually has a Spanish accent. And up to this trip to the neighboring country, she had never left the US before.
After one week the mother tongue was back
FAS patients are usually treated with a speech therapy or, in the case of a psychological cause, with medicaments. In most cases, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, however, the “own language” comes back by itself in the course of time. This can sometimes take only a few days.
The teenager Reuben Nsemoh from Georgia had already lost his mother tongue English after almost one week and almost completely lost Spanish again. Meanwhile, he is also home again, where he has to recover from the consequences of the brain shake.
“I want to become a football professional,” says the 16-year-old. The severe injury can not destroy this dream. But until Nsemoh is back in the team’s goal, it will probably still take time. “One thing is certain,” says his coach Kalonji. “After three brainstorming, Reuben will have to wear a helmet for his own safety.”