Foreign accent syndrome is an incredibly rare neurological condition, first reported in 1907, in which patients develop what appears to be a foreign accent. The condition, which results from damage to the speech centres of the brain, give sudden speech impediment that leaves the suffer sounding as if they are speaking their native language in the accent of a foreigner.
Those with foreign accent syndrome speak in a distorted rhythm and tone, such as:
- Making vowel sounds longer and lower such as changing English “yeah” to German “jah”
- Changing sound quality by moving the tongue or jaw differently while speaking
- Substituting words or using inappropriate words to describe something
- Stringing sentences together the wrong way
Symptoms can last for months, years, or may be permanent.
The condition is caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls the rhythm and melody of speech. The damage may be due to:
- Stroke, which is the main cause
- Trauma to the brain, such as a sharp blow to the skull
- Brain hemorrhage
- Multiple sclerosis
- Brain tumor
Foreign Accent Syndrome is also linked it to other symptoms, such as:
- Aphasia - a communication disorder that can affect the ability to understand and express language
- Speech apraxia - a speech disorder that affects the ability to make sounds, syllables, and words
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done paying particular attention to the muscles used in speech. A psychological evaluation may also be done to rule out psychiatric conditions.
Your language skills will be assessed. This can be done through tests to assess reading, writing and language comprehension. The assessment can also include recordings to analyze speech patterns.
Images will be taken of the brain. This can be done with MRI scans, CT scans, SPECT scans or PET scans. The activity of the brain may also be measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG).
Since the condition is rare, you will most likely be evaluated by a team of specialists, including:
- Speech-language pathologist
It is important that each patient talk with their doctor in order to find the best possible treatment plan. Treatment options may include speech therapy to learn how to better move the lips and jaw during speech. Some may also benefit from counseling in order to provide emotional assistance and support both for the patient and its family. With foreign accent syndrome being a rare disorder, many feel isolated and embarrassed.
Below is a video of 38-year-old Sarah Colwill who was rushed to hospital suffering from a severe migraine. She woke up with a chinese accent.