Can you forget your mother tongue?

It happened to a woman in China after she had a stroke. After being in a coma for two weeks, the 94-year old woman woke up and was only able to speak English, a language that she hadn’t used in over 30 years! To the doctors’ surprise, this former English professor could only speak in the language of Shakespeare, asking questions like: “Where am I? What is happening?” An English-speaking doctor was quickly called to the patient’s bedside to confirm the improbable.

“We think that the region controlling her ability to speak Chinese was damaged, but brain cells have the ability to regenerate to some extent and we hope to at least see some improvement,” explains Dr. Tao Hou, who is in charge of this case unlike any she has ever experienced before. “We anticipate that with adapted re-education and some rest, she should regain her ability to speak Chinese,” she says.

A similar case created confusion in 1937 when a child proved unable to speak in his mother tongue after a sharp blow to the back of the head. He understood what the doctors were saying but couldn’t produce a single word. Instead, he used what little Romanian he knew to express himself.

This may remind some people of the famous dream that Romain Duris had in the film “L’Auberge Espagnole” when the actor traded French for Spanish.

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