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Foreign Accent Syndrome: Can Accent Reduction Help?

As a speech therapist specializing in the area of accent reduction I have always been fascinated by "foreign accent syndrome." In particular, I wondered if accent reduction could be used to treat this rare condition. When Lisa Alamia's story hit the news, it was a perfect time to do some research.

First, a few more details about Lisa. After surgery to correct an overbite, Lisa woke up and began talking in a British accent — nothing out of the ordinary about this, expect that Lisa is from Texas and has never even travelled outside North America. So what happened? Lisa was diagnosed with foreign accent syndrome, a rare medical condition causing a sudden change in speech patterns so that a native speaker talks with a foreign accent. Take a look at this video clip which captures the dramatic change in Lisa’s speech.

After some research, I found a few other cases of foreign accent syndrome have been documented around the world; including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian. It looks like most experts agree on a team approach, one that includes speech therapy. There are some reports that foreign accent syndrome may benefit from changing vowel and consonant pronunciation and working on stress and intonation — all of these are key aspects of most accent reduction programs. More information is definitely needed about treating this intriguing condition, but speech therapists who encounter foreign accent syndrome should consider accent reduction as a possible treatment option. 


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