What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?

Charles McCarthy

Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare speech disorder in which patients develop speech patterns that are perceived as having a foreign accent other than their native language, without having acquired it in the place of origin..

Speech can be altered in terms of timing, intonation and placement of the tongue, so that it is perceived as if a strange sound is being produced. Your expression can be highly intelligible, although it doesn't necessarily sound cluttered.


  • Causes of foreign accent syndrome
  • Symptoms of foreign accent syndrome
  • Diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome
    • When making a diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome, the following criteria must be met:
  • Treatment

Causes of foreign accent syndrome

This rare disorder usually occurs after brain damage such as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or head trauma. Other causes such as multiple sclerosis have also been detected, but in some cases a clear cause has not been identified.

Aphasia (a disorder that affects the ability to understand and express words) and apraxia (a disorder that affects the ability to produce words, syllables, and sounds) have also been linked to foreign accent syndrome. Having these diseases can increase a person's chances of developing this disorder..

When someone develops this disease due to a stroke, for example, the damage has usually occurred in an area of ​​the brain that controls the rhythm and melody of speech, usually in the left hemisphere of the brain..

Some researchers believe that foreign accent syndrome can also have psychogenic causes, meaning that it is caused by a mental health problem. Thus, instead of suffering from neurological damage, the person has an underlying psychological disorder, such as a personality disorder or a conversion disorder (in which the person's unconscious psychological state has a physical effect on the body).

Symptoms of foreign accent syndrome

The result in either case is that the person's speech pattern changes suddenly and unexpectedly without making a deliberate attempt to do so. The subject still uses the words of his mother tongue and his choice of them is not affected, however the intonation and the form of speech are altered.

As we have already said, the foreign accent syndrome is a rare condition, it is a disorder that was first diagnosed in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie. Since then, around 100 cases have been documented, including accent changes such as:

  • From British English to French or Chinese
  • From American English to British English
  • From Spanish to Hungarian
  • From Japanese to Korean

Speech characteristics may appear similar to those of other speech disorders, but in this case the speech emission does not appear as pathological or abnormal, but simply gives the sensation of being strange.

Although each case is unique, the following changes in speech pattern are the most common:

  • Unusual speech pattern and rhythm (prosody), particularly in multi-syllable words
  • Pretty predictable errors
  • Vowel distortions, prolongations or substitutions
  • Consonant distortions, substitutions, or deletions
  • Difficulty pronouncing consonant clusters
  • Insert 'uh' into words
  • Pronunciation errors

Some people may wonder if this condition is real or feigned, but people with this disorder often feel frustrated by not being able to speak with their normal accent and may experience social anxiety..

Diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome

To make a correct diagnosis, you should start by making an evaluation that includes a medical history, family history and a history of the patient's education and exposure to foreign languages..

A physical examination of the person's oral structures, especially the muscles used for speaking, is done. Tests to determine the patient's speech and language skills. To make an in-depth analysis of speech patterns, oral reading and conversation samples will be taken. The person will also be evaluated to rule out any psychological problems. Images of the brain will be taken including an MRI and CT scan, and a single photon emission tomography (SPECT) and electroencephalogram (EEG) may be recommended..

When making a diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome, the following criteria must be met:

  • The accent should be considered strange.
  • The altered speech pattern must be different from the person's native dialect before brain damage occurs.
  • The altered speech pattern must be clearly related to neurological damage if any.
  • There must be no evidence that the person is able to speak a foreign language.


Because this syndrome is so rare, research on treatment is lacking. There have been cases that have resolved on their own in a few months or years, but other cases have evolved and the condition may be permanent..

Treatment may include the use of accent reduction techniques with the help of a speech and language therapist. The person may also be taught how to move the lips or jaw more appropriately during speech..

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