https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

Only able to speak in Spanish after operation

For almost five years, every morning the first thing I do when I wake up is practice Spanish using Duolingo. Last year I had to have an operation under general anesthesia. I woke up in the recovery room and my wife spoke to me in English. When I tried to reply, I could only speak Spanish. I finally told her, "Lo siento. Solamente puedo hablar en español ahora" and stopped trying to talk to her since she doesn't understand Spanish. After a few minutes I was finally able to speak English again.

Has anyone else ever heard of something like this?

May 8, 2019

34 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/gnani080

I've never heard of that but damn that sounds pretty interesting/cool. It could be because of your habits wired into "first thing to do when awake is Spanish".

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

I figured it must have had something to do with my brain thinking: "When you wake up, this is what you speak" and a combination of the drugs in the anesthesia.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/RatiMPatel

YA...LIKE THIS COULD BE A RESULT OF CONTINUITY....WHICH IS NOW CONVERTED INTO YOUR HABIT.....

CONGRATULATIONS.. =)

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ngraner42

I am a complete layman on this issue, but your experience seems to be one brain researchers would be very interested in. Quite a bit of brain function has been learned by studying stroke victims, who lost part of their brain function. You may want to write down your experience as memory is very pliable.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Lillith713

I watch a youtuber, and after she was under anesthesia she was only able to speak Korean for a little while. She had been studying it for 10 years.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Meital640

Me too! It's Lindie Botes.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

I'll have to look up her story. Thanks for the tip.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Songve

Your native language is in Broca part of brain and subsequent languages in a number of cortical areas in both hemispheres. Sometimes anesthesia differentially affects areas of the brain. Experiencing a coma or a conk on the head may affect the brain in the same way.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Sevenjetc

I had a lawyer friend who fell down the stone stairs of the court building, hit her head really badly and only spoke German for the first couple of weeks after she woke up from coma.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

The fact that you have Navin R. Johnson as your profile picture, I can't help but imagine that this would be a great Steve Martin film. We'll call him Richard. He learns Spanish. Has operation. Wakes up and can only speak Spanish. (But in Steve Martin's case, he could play a character that actually takes on some Spanish stereotypical traits.) His wife falls in love with the new "Rico". He lives his life with this new identity for a while before slowly recovering and coming back to his original self - Richard.

This stuff is writing itself!

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

Ha! Only the great Steve Martin could pull that movie off!

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/TJTitmus

Love your mind :-))

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/DJrossonwye

That is a really strange but nice and funny tale. Thank you.. ;)

I have heard quite a few anecdotes regarding patients as they come up from anaesthetic from a doctor friend. Some of them are comical, some are really baffling and weird, and some would bring a tear to your eye.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Sevenjetc

I had to have a minor surgery back in 2009 and because of shortage of beds, they put me, then 26 years old, to the "kids" room of the gynecology department. Kids meaning two 15 years old girls with their teenage drama. I don't remember it but I apparently berated them and gave them unwanted advice when I came to. Advice along the lines that all guys are trash and your vibrator doesn't cheat because you "didn't put out".

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/DJrossonwye

Look on the bright side though, this might give you a sort of desensitised superpower - after that you should now be able to send rather embarrassing late night texts to a colleague after an office party without cringing at the memory in the slightest the next day. ;)

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Nanase-Miyuki

It has happened to a couple of people after a major accident, where they suddenly lose the ability to use their mother tongue and speak in a non native language instead. There are many cases like these you could search up on Google and YouTube.

Also, there is "foreign accent syndrome" where people suddenly speak their native language in a different accent after an accident or event.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

The anesthesia must affect the language center of the brain for some people.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/George229674

when i was in my 20s i had my wisdom teeth pulled out. they gave me really strong but short lasting anesthesia...like it only put me out for 20 minutes. when i started coming out of it i started swearing really bad, very nasty words, around complete strangers...it was embarrassing once i realized what i had done and i apologized.

the same thing happened to my ex-wifes mother-in-law as she descended into the depths of Alzheimer's disease. it was really sad to see, she was always a very proper lady.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

That anesthesia really messes with people's minds. Sorry to hear about your ex-wife's mother-in-law. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease.

May 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Mokurai

Temporary Tourette's Syndrome. That's a new one to me, but I can't say that I am surprised.

May 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Langophobe

That's actually rather common with Alzheimer's and other forms of Dementia. One of the most noticeable brain sections to cease functioning is the inhibitory region. That's why things like cursing, crude jokes or just taking off clothes in random places are pretty usual.

On that note, I wonder if some of these effects couldn't be mirrored by a depression in the activity of the same region following anesthesia....

May 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/AndresGarner

Wow, I have never heard of anyone doing that before! If you came out of surgery speaking Spanish even with the effects of anesthesia, that means you are a pro.

I had an operation a few years ago and when I was still in the clouded state from anesthesia, I couldn't even hardly talk in English or understand others around me.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/lakie2016

So you could understand english but not speak it when you woke up?

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

That's correct. I could understand all the English that was being spoken around me. But when I tried to speak, my words came out in Spanish.

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/halssten

You are a Buzz Lightyear toy figure and they accidentally hit your reset to spanish button whilst grating around your insides?

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

Ha! "Venga conmigo, señorita."

May 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Mokurai

No, but I have had visual hallucinations while going under and coming out of general anesthesia. The brain does not wake up all at once, more so under anesthesia than dreaming.

Then there was the time in the Peace Corps when I was dreaming in Korean. I was completely fluent in the dream, and really impressed myself, even though I could hardly understand a word I was supposedly saying. :<þ

May 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Langophobe

Think I got it, found a hypothesis piece from a research physician in the Journal of Anesthesia (sorry I had to take the fun out of this and make it about science but I have a science degree so that's how my mind works now).

Anyways, first language is produced by Broca's area, subsequent languages are produced by multiple areas scattered throughout both hemispheres. It is known that anesthesia dowregulates global connectivity throughout the brain. The extrapolation is that this downregulation would make it easier to isolate a single brain region (Broca's area isolation-> no first language) but would simultaneously have less chance of isolating all the areas responsible for secondary languages.

http://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=2662979

May 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

This is fascinating! So Broca's area is for the execution of speech and the two languages are stored in distinct areas. The anesthesia downregulation is isolating a smaller area of the speech execution—in my case the Spanish area—while shutting off the English area. It makes me wonder if the same thing would happen under the same conditions.

May 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Langophobe

Secondary languages are housed in multiple areas, its just harder to shut them all down, rather than just the one for english. The isolation is what shuts them down

May 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ColeJordan12

Anyways, omg 1791 day streak?!?

May 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NavinJohnson

I just take it one day at a time. It's hardest to keep up when traveling, but for me it's just getting up a half hour early every day and sticking with the habit.

May 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Langophobe

I only 'spoke' sign language coming out of sedation after getting my wisdom teeth out. Not sure if it was because of this effect or just out of dazed practicality as my face was all messed up

May 10, 2019
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