Woman Suffers Stroke and Wakes Up with a Foreign Accent

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We often live a different life in our dreams. We go to places, meet different people, and spend a day as someone quite far from who we really are. But when we wake up, we’re going back to the same life. Nothing’s changed, and all we could do is sleep again and hope to have the same dream. But what would you do if you went to a long sleep and wake up different from who you were? A British woman has enough experience to answer that question.

Forty-year-old Sarah Colwill is a native in the city of Plymouth in Devon, England, and has been living and working in the same city all her life. But when she had a stroke in 2010, the lady woke up with a Chinese accent, completely losing her British one.

Sarah Colwill from Plymouth, Devon, who woke up with a chinese accent after having a stroke in 2010

Sarah was suffering from a severe migraine and was rushed to the hospital thereafter. She was shocked, as well as the doctors who attended to her, with the different type of speech she was having. Sarah has never been to China and doesn’t know how to speak Chinese. After she woke up and heard herself, Sarah has spent a long time trying to regain her original accent but to no avail. The condition, coined as the foreign accent syndrome (FAS), Sarah was told, can never be cured.

Sarah Colwill from Plymouth, Devon, who woke up with a Chinese accent after having a stroke in 2010

Foreign accent syndrome is a speech disorder that causes a sudden change to speech so that a native speaker is perceived to speak with a “foreign” accent. A damage to the brain is the cause for this disorder. It did not come as a shock to experts that Sarah acquired FAS as she is a migraine sufferer, having ten of these migraines for a month, a  condition her doctors are having a hard time curing as well.

At the moment Mrs Colwill needs seven hours a week personal care and her brain finds it difficult to cope with temperature changes, so going shopping or washing is very difficult



Sarah Colwill from Plymouth, Devon appearing on the BBC programme: The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese

Only a few people have FAS, with only sixty-two cases recorded worldwide. Australian Leanne Rowe met a car accident while driving along Tasmania, her home country. When she woke up, she had difficulty talking. When she regained it, she lost her Australian accent and sounded French. Other documented cases include accent changes from American English to British English, Spanish to Hungarian, and from Japanese to Korean.

Leanne Rowe

Sarah admitted that the change in her accent is giving her a hard time. Sometimes, she is the subject of some cruel jokes. Wherever she goes, she is asked where she comes from and if she has been to other country. Sarah thought she was the only one until she met Kay Russell who also had severe headaches for years and woke up with a French accent instead of her Gloucestershire tone.

Sarah Colwill and Kay Russell

Sarah says that FAS left her trapped in a different world, somewhere you don’t have an idea what kind of. ‘You don’t even know who you are anymore,’ she added. Bu the Plymouth native continues to try to live a normal life despite the syndrome, and that alone, is inspiring enough.


Watch Sarah’s and other FAS patients’ stories below.

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