Xenoglossy – Are the Reports True?

Today we have a guest post by Carrie Oakley

There’s a general theory that if the news is sensational, it cannot be true; however, in certain cases, truth is stranger than fiction and so sensational that it is hard to accept it as fact. Of late, there have been a few news reports of people waking up from comas or accidents and speaking another language fluently, one they’ve never conversed in before or even learned properly. The Croatian teenager who woke up and could converse in German is one such case while the accident victim from Czechoslovakia the Czech Republic who could speak fluent English after he recovered is another. The scientific term for this phenomenon is of course the title of this article – xenoglossy.

For the layman who reads these news items, the question is not “Is it really possible?” but “How is it possible?” After all, these are not sleazy tabloids that are reporting the news but respectable and reputable newspapers and publishing houses. However, papers have taken to reporting half-truths nowadays, so we can safely say that these are not miraculous happenings. So how is it that people are able to speak in a whole new tongue without putting in the effort and time to learn it the natural way? It takes most of us the better part of a year to master a language, and even then, unless we keep practicing it, we don’t retain fluency. If that is so, does brain trauma make it possible to learn a new tongue?

On closer examination of the above mentioned two cases, it was found that the Czech victim’s claims of conversing in fluent English were propagated by the people around him at the time of the accident, his friends and others known to him. So while he may have spoken a few words in English, the report could have been grossly exaggerated. And in the case of the Croatian girl, she had been taking German lessons through self-help books and could understand enough to watch German programs on television.

The point is, you don’t end up speaking a new tongue that you’ve never come in contact with after you undergo psychological and physical trauma; and while your recovery may be miraculous, there’s nothing spectacular about speaking an almost new language. While the exact reason for the change in preferred tongue is not known, experts speculate that it could be because of damage in the speech centers of the brain that causes selective aphasia – you forget how to converse in the language you’re fluent in, and because our body tries to adapt, it automatically communicates in this other language that you are familiar with but not necessarily fluent in.

The sensationalism is caused because the victims’ families and friends would have never heard them conversing in the new language ever, so to them it is a sort of miracle. But what the brain does not know, it cannot acquire after a trauma. Yes, xenoglossy is possible, but only when the foundation has already been laid for the new language.

About the writer

Carrie Oakley, who writes on the topic of online college . Carrie welcomes your comments at her email id: carrie.oakley1983(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

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This entry was posted in Language.

4 Responses to Xenoglossy – Are the Reports True?

  1. prase says:

    There is no more Czechoslovakia after 1992 (the xenoglossy case is supposed to be from 2007).

  2. Rodrigo says:

    A friend of mine switched accents just after having an accident, does that count? After 10 years of living in my country he switched back to his original accent for the moments after the accident.

  3. Damn. Here I was about to go lay my head down on the train tracks by my house. Can’t afford the tuition to go back and brush up on my Japanese :)

  4. Abbie says:

    “It takes most of us the better part of a year to master a language”

    Wait, what? Who is “most of us”?