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Foreign Accent Syndrome

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What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?

This is a rare medical syndrome or speech disorder in which a person suddenly develops a foreign accent and begins to speak with a different accent. This condition is described as foreign accent syndrome (FAS) or foreign speech syndrome or foreign accent disorder.

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It was first noticed in the year 1907, but is not very common and occurs mainly when the brain is affected either due to a trauma or a stroke or due to some developmental issues.

Foreign Accent Syndrome

What Causes Foreign Accent Syndrome?

FAS or foreign accent syndrome is basically a speech disorder and since speech is controlled by the brain, the main causes for FAS are usually linked to the brain. The main causes could be:
  • Injury to the brain
  • Brain stroke
  • Brain developmental issues
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Conversion disorder
In rare cases picking up FAS from a person already suffering from FAS. Severe headaches or migraines also cause Foreign Accent Syndrome.

Severe Headaches & Migraines

A classic example of this is Sarah Colwill a British lady who after an attack of migraine woke up with a Chinese accent. This was called a Chinese foreign accent disorder.

How do you Diagnose Foreign Accent Syndrome and what are the Symptoms?

The patients usually develop this syndrome suddenly. The main symptoms include:
  • Some common language changes include Spanish to Hungarian, American English to British English, and Japanese to Korean etc.
  • Change in pronunciation of vowels and use of consonants.
  • Sometimes using the word “uh” along with a lot of words.
  • Some voice errors like pake instead of a bake.
  • Joining wrong sentences together
Diagnosis: The physician will look into the entire medical history and the symptoms experienced before establishing the diagnosis. The doctor checks the reading and writing comprehension to assess if there is any issue. Following this, special investigations like a CT scan, MRI or PET scan to check for any damage or injury to the brain is done. They may also do an EEG (electro encephalogram) to check the activity of the brain. Once the reports are seen and the diagnosis of a foreign accent syndrome is made.

EEG to Diagnose Foreign Accent Syndrome

Treatment & Prevention

Since this is a very rare disorder and mainly linked to the brain and speech, the treatment is also very symptomatic. If there is a brain injury, stroke or hemorrhage the primary treatment goal should be to treat the condition first. Other strategies include:
  • Counseling from a psychologist will help to overcome the embarrassment and face society more confidently.
  • Speech therapy from a therapist who can help to bring a change in the accent and get you back to speaking in the native accent again.
  • FAS itself is a rare condition but if there is a history of strokes in the family, it is important to follow a few steps to prevent the onset of FAS.
  • Regular health checks and to keep blood pressure under control
  • Exercise regularly and keep a check on weight
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking
Prevention of Foreign Accent Syndrome
  • A low dose of a blood thinner like aspirin can prevent any clots from occurring.
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