A Georgia teenager suffered a traumatic brain injury that rendered him unconscious when he was accidentally kicked in the head during a soccer game he was playing in. When he woke up in the hospital, he immediately experienced something different and strange — something you might read about on The Onion instead of your doctor’s PediaBlog:

Rueben Nsemoh, 16, shocked family members and doctors when he opened his eyes after a three-day coma and began uttering sentences in Spanish, despite having known only a few words before his accident.

“It started flowing out,” the teen told TIME on Monday. “I felt like it was like second nature for me. I wasn’t speaking my English right, and every time I tried to speak it I would have a seizure.”

“It was weird,” Rueben added. “It was not scary at all. I actually liked it a lot. It was really unique to me.”


Melissa Chan says there is a clinical name for this phenomenon:

It’s not unprecedented for patients to start speaking a different language or using different accents after a major trauma. In June, a Texas woman made headlines after she had surgery on her lower jaw and then suddenly started speaking with a British accent.

That case was diagnosed as foreign accent syndrome, a very rare condition in which people speak with a different accent, usually after head trauma or stroke, according to CNN. Severe cases of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and concussions can also cause changes in language function, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Foreign accent syndrome. FAS. Its causes and affected locations in the injured brain were described by a Texas neurologist in a 2011 British Medical Journal review article:

It has been associated with various aetiologies as surveyed in the literature. The most common aetiology involves a vascular lesion affecting the motor speech areas in the language dominant hemisphere. But it has been linked to other aetiologies such as metastatic breast carcinoma, traumatic brain injury, and even as an initial symptom of multiple sclerosis. Additionally, migraines have been implicated as well.

Furthermore, the areas affected in FAS are scattered. The majority of cases involve the motor speech areas, but the dominant precentral gyrus, inferior central gyrus, corpus callosum and insula also have been implicated in FAS. Other case reports have shown involvement in the non-dominant rolandic and temporal areas. In a review of 16 cases of FAS, both cortical and subcortical processes were found to be involved. Therefore, there is no clear lesion which can explain FAS consistently.


The Mount Sinai Health System devotes a page on its website to FAS, attributing most cases to strokes and describing it simply:

FAS is caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls the rhythm and melody of speech.


Chan says Rueben is expected to recover fully:

Rueben says he could recite just a few phrases in Spanish before his accident. The only ways he had heard Spanish were from his brother, who had previously studied in Spain, and his Spanish-speaking teammates.

In the weeks after the accident, Rueben gradually recovered the ability to speak English, and now he speaks both languages fluently, although he says the Spanish has begun to fade.



(Google Images)