Strange Stories of Language Learning Part 2

After writing about some strange stories I’d come across over the years regarding language learning, I remembered a few more …..

So in the interest of a comprehensive list, here are these additional stories – Strange but supposedly true.


1.  Sarah Colwill overnight starts speaking with a Chinese accent.

Scott Thornbury commented on the original post about Foreign Accent Syndrome. A definite “strange” thing that is fruitful for all language teachers / researchers to ponder.

This video highlights the case of Sarah Colwill who after acute migraines began speaking with a strong Chinese accent. Listen to her explain this ….  What’s going on here?

2.   Danielle – a modern feral child

Feral children are the strange and horrific cases of children being raised without any or little contact with humans or human language. Many times they are raised by and with animals – like Oxana the Dog Child of Ukraine.   Here is a nice documentation of some famous historic cases, most not fully documented and unproven as “true”.  But the case of “Dani”is true and her own development of language afterward, revealing to us language teachers.


3.  Matej Kus – Xenoglossy

This Czech teenager after a car crash was able to speak fluent English with a British accent. Prior to the accident he’d started learning English but was definitely a beginner. Xenoglossy is a very rare condition where after brain trauma, the person wakes speaking another language, fluently.  Very strange but it does occur  – what’s happening here?  The case of Orlando Serrell, hit with a baseball and then showing unbelievable “savant like”abilities is a similar type of case.  This video below has a doctor recounting how he got a Chinese woman speaking English while under hypnosis. Hmmmmm.

4. Speaking in tongues – Glossolalia.

Practiced mainly in the Pentacostal religion, “Speaking in tongues”is where believers enter a trance like state and speak in unknown phrases and sentences.  They deem these to be not “babble” but a form of a sacred language.  There have been a number of comprehensive linguistic studies on this phenomena and they report that the speech does have definite language like qualities. It is yet determined if this is innate, a learned behavior or what the actual triggers are.

5.  Christopher Taylor – Language Savant

Last time I wrote about Daniel Tammet and how in one week, he learned to speak fluent Icelandic.  Christopher Taylor also displays extraordinary language ability. Reading and writing in dozens of languages. He can tell you what language is written, almost without fault. What’s interesting is he can’t speak these languages and his own communication is mono syllabic. He translates word for word but has no sense of grammar at all .


6.  Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

On the face of it, you might not think Helen Keller learning a language is “strange”, the story is so common and known. However, just thinking about what she did with the help of her remarkable teacher Anne Sullivan is indeed to venture into a realm where we have to question  altogether our very ideas and thoughts about what language is.

7.  Me,myself and I.  Foerster’s Syndrome

I’ve always had an acute sensitivity to language – her sounds and rhythm. This shows in my own lifelong writing of poetry but also in how my own brain works.  I’m constantly producing puns and word associations when speaking, writing or thinking. This is known as Forerster’s Syndrome and can be severe enough so that a person can only speak in a series of puns, jokes and word associations.  My own version is quite light but still, I’ve had to work over the years to create a filter and have the ability to control it.  Strange but true!

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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