Ben McMahon, a 22-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, was in a coma for a week after a horrible car accident. When McMahon awoke, he found that all he could speak was Mandarin, a northern dialect of Chinese. McMahon had studied the language in school, but was far from fluent before his coma.
Upon awakening, the first person Ben saw was an “Asian-looking” nurse at the hospital where he was recovering. When he saw her, McMahon reportedly said, “Excuse me nurse, I feel really sore here” in Chinese. He then requested a pen and a piece of paper, upon which he wrote “I love my mum, I love my dad, I will recover,” also in flawless Mandarin.
It took McMahon several days to remember how to speak English. He claims that speaking Mandarin wasn’t a choice. “I wasn’t consciously thinking I was speaking Mandarin, it was what just came out and it was what was most natural to me,” Ben says.
McMahon hasn’t lost his newly found language skills, either. In fact, he’s turned them into a major advantage. He has been leading Chinese-language tours of his hometown of Melbourne, and even hosted a television program in Mandarin. Most recently, McMahon pulled up stakes and moved to Shanghai, where he is studying commerce at a local university. McMahon says that he is simply fortunate to be alive and to speak a second language.
Ben McMahon’s sudden fluency has baffled his doctors, though. However, what happened to McMahon is not the first instance of someone recovering from a traumatic injury or experience to find that they have suddenly gained a language. In July of 2013, US Navy veteran Michael Boatwright was found unconscious in a motel room. He had no recollection of who he was, and, when he awoke, spoke fluent Swedish. He claimed his name was Johan Ek, and that he was from Sweden. He was, in fact, born in Florida. To this day, Boatwright feels like Johan Ek, although he has come to terms with being Michael Boatwright.
And then there was the case of Sandra Ralic, a 13-year-old girl who spoke only Croation before going into an unexplained coma, and could speak only German when she came out of it, leaving doctors baffled as to the cause of both the coma and the language change.
So it may seem that there is a link to language skills and comas… although it certainly isn’t recommended. You may just want to learn the old-fashioned way, with studying.
[Image via The Herald Sun]