Foreign accent syndrome first appeared in the medical literature in 1907 with French neurologist Pierre Marie’s description of a patient who began speaking French with an Alsatian accent after suffering a stroke. Twelve years later, neurologist Arnold Pick reported on a patient whose Czech language became flavored with a Polish accent after a stroke. Foreign accent syndrome usually results from a stroke, but can also develop from head trauma, migraines or developmental problems. If you have Foreign accent syndrome, you adopt what sounds like a foreign accent, even though you may never have travelled to that particular country. Speech may be altered in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement so that is perceived as sounding foreign. Speech remains highly intelligible and does not necessarily sound disordered.
Foreign Accent Syndrome is caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls the rhythm and melody of speech. The damage may be due to:
- Brain tumor
- Brain hemorrhage
- Multiple sclerosis
- Trauma to the brain, such as a sharp blow to the skull
It is also linked it to other symptoms, such as:
- Aphasia – a communication disorder that can affect the ability to understand and express language
- Speech apraxia – a speech disorder that affects the ability to make sounds, syllables, and words
Those with foreign accent syndrome speak in a distorted rhythm and tone, such as:
- Making vowel sounds longer and lower such as changing English “yeah” or German “jah”
- Substituting words or using inappropriate words to describe something
- Changing sound quality by moving the tongue or jaw differently while speaking
- Stringing sentences together the wrong way
People with Foreign Accent Syndrome may able to speak easily and without anxiety. Symptoms can last for months, years, or may be permanent.
Since this syndrome is very rare, it takes several specialists to evaluate the syndrome and diagnosis it, such as speech-language pathologists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, and psychologists. Psychological evaluations may be performed in order to rule out any psychiatric condition that may be causing the change in speech, as well as tests to assess reading, writing, and language comprehension. One of the symptoms of this syndrome is that the patient moves their tongue or jaw differently while speaking which creates a different sound, so a recording is done of the speech pattern in order to analyze it. In addition to these psychological tests, images of the brain are taken with either MRI, CT, SPECT or PET scans. This is in order to see if any damage has been done to the areas of the brain that control rhythm and melody of speech. Brain activity is also measured with an EEG in order to evaluate the activity of these parts of the brain during speech.
A person with this kind of syndrome must talk to a doctor for a best treatment plan. Treatment options includes:
- Speech therapy – You may be taught how to better move your lips and jaw during speech.
- Counseling – Since Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare disorder, you may feel isolated and embarrassed. Counseling can help you and your family better cope with the condition.
Since FAS is closely linked to stroke, follow these guidelines to prevent stroke:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthful diet
- Quit smoking and limit how much alcohol you drink
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Check your blood pressure often
- Take a low dose of aspirin if your doctor says it is safe
- Keep chronic conditions under control
- Call 911 if you have symptoms of a stroke, even if symptoms stop
- Do not use drugs