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What is it – at one moment to lose the opportunity to speak the main language

History of the British Hannah Jenkins – after the accident and coma, she is forced to speak English in the morning and switch to German in the afternoon.

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On October 1, 2015, a resident of the UK, Hannah Jenkins, sat on a bicycle and took the dog with her for a walk. She drove through the city, looked into the gym and returned home when she was knocked down by an occasional cyclist about 100 meters from the front door. He immediately called an ambulance and waited for the doctors to arrive, saying that he was traveling at a speed of about 30 kilometers per hour.

Falling on the asphalt, Jenkins got a bruise on her leg and repulsed her shoulder. But she did not remember this, because the main blow fell on the back of his head, leaving a strong dent. Thus began a new page in the life of the British, where she was forced to alternate between English and German. The story of Jenkins told the edition of the BBC.

Life with minimal communication

When Jenkins was taken to the hospital, the doctors checked her condition on the Glasgow coma scale . This system consists of three tests that test the speech reaction, the motor reaction and the degree of opening the eyes. For each test, the patient is awarded points: the maximum 15 points mean a clear consciousness, and the minimum three points – the beyond coma and brain death.

The British was on the verge – she was given four points, which she interpreted as a deep coma. She does not remember whether she spoke and moved her hands: her condition was aggravated by abundant bleeding from a wound on the back of her head. Jenkins managed to stabilize, but she recovered only four days later. Deprived of the ability to understand or speak English.

Jenkins was born into a polyglot family: her mother and father had taught her and her sister to speak German and English since childhood. This made her a bilingual – a person who perfectly knows two languages. As the BBC writes , in the UK this is a common phenomenon – a child naturally learns two languages: English and the language of his migrant parents. For example, mother Jenkins was born in Austria.

The British defines German as the first language in which she began to speak, since everyone in her home spoke everything in it. Despite this, English, in fact, also became the first language of Jenkins. So much the worse, she felt in the hospital, realizing that she did not understand anything from the speech of British doctors.

“It could just as well be Arabic. It was very unpleasant, ”recalls the woman.

She felt better only during a telephone conversation with her sister, because the dialogue was held in German. At some point, a surprised doctor passed by a British woman – none of the medical staff guessed that the patient knew German. They could not find contact with her, as she was constantly silent.

For some unknown reason, the so-called linguistic amnesia Jenkins spread to text English only in part – although with great difficulty she could read and write. She managed to send a message to her partner Andrew Wilde. He traveled through the mountains in America when he received a message – from him he understood only the words “dog” and “hospital” in German. As explained the British, at that moment she was very worried about the pet.

Wilde almost did not know German, so during the gatherings with her beloved family everyone spoke English. When he left, the family automatically switched to German. After the Jenkins accident, the couple learned a few months to communicate in sign language, with no alternatives.

It took even more time for a thorough restoration – despite the difficulties, an engineer by training Wilde did not perceive the incident as a problem, but rather as a working draft. He consulted with doctors and studied a lot of information in an attempt to understand the intricacies of the brain and help Jenkins.

When English began to gradually return to the British woman, he and Wild began to train the writing of the text. The couple corresponded in the messengers even if they were in the same room to cope with language amnesia. The support was also provided by the parents – they had experience of teaching and social work, so they approached the matter professionally.

Rare feature

About three to four months after the incident, Jenkins could go from home to the store without an English-speaking escort. She came to work only a year later, as her level of understanding of the language remained low. Three years after what happened, Jenkins still has to make compromises with his own brain.

In the morning she is able to speak English, but closer to two in the afternoon she gets tired and switches to German. In her free time, she writes herself short notes in German and tries to spend as little time as possible communicating with people in order to give the brain a rest. On successful days it gives her the strength to return to the English evening for a short time.

“If I don’t have time to rest in the afternoon, it’s even difficult to cook dinner and speak English at the same time,” explains Jenkins. She is glad that at least the dog understands her regularly, as she knows commands in both languages.

The British woman suggests that at first the doctors might suspect that she had a “ foreign accent syndrome ”. This is a rare condition when the patient develops the accent of a foreign region, even if he was not in the territory of the source. A British resident can begin to speak with an accent from a native of New York, and a native Londoner can catch up with a Russian accent.

That is what happened to 18-year-old George Harris in 2009 after leaving the coma. The case was so unique that 500 doctors came to the meeting with the young man at the same time. Harris really lived in Russia in deep childhood, but experts did not believe that this was due to the syndrome. A year later, the Briton almost completely got rid of the Russian accent, restoring the previous pronunciation. At the same time, he retained the ability to switch to Russian accent at will.

But the situation with Jenkins is different. Despite the study in childhood of two languages, it was the German brain that chose as the main one, without changing the Austrian accent of the British. Having refused the version of the “foreign accent syndrome”, the doctors warned that it would take years for the patient to recover fluent English.

Confidence in the future

Looking back, Jenkins understands that her peculiarity influenced relationships with friends and relatives much more than her relationship with Wilde. She began to stay at home more often during her free days in order not to burden herself with conversations with people. Communicating with a partner has also become more difficult, which, in one way or another, affected the relationship. “But I certainly wouldn’t have managed without him and his support and help,” says Jenkins, who has been dating Wilde for more than eight years.

In the most difficult moments, the woman suffered from stress and panic attacks that she had not previously encountered. In an attempt to overcome herself, Jenkins began to ride her bike again, although at first she could not convince herself to sit on it. She gradually traveled farther from home, but for a long time was afraid to repeat the route where she was shot down.

More than once I was on the wrong side of the road, stopped, tried to catch my breath, concentrate and leave: “Do not be stupid, come on, you can do it.”

Hannah Jenkins
UK resident

Months of practice allowed the British woman to overcome the fear of the old route, now she rides a bicycle at any opportunity. The British admits that lately her speed of improvement has begun to decline, but she considers this part of the process. In order to develop the skill of mindfulness, she became interested in shooting: “Bullets fly to where your mind dictates.” In addition, Jenkins took up the practice of self-awareness — a process of drawing attention to inner experiences through meditation.

In addition to self-control Briton devotes time to drawing and photographing. She believes that this will allow her to better cope with stress and fatigue, allowing her to fully return to work. “I learned how to solve these problems. I can continue to do this. If these problems disappear, it’s great, but life is life, and I’m sure new tasks will appear on my path, ”Jenkins says. Despite its peculiarity, its English sounds almost flawless.

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