Monday, December 7, 2009

The brain is a wonderful thing

I worked on a neurology unit for almost 6 years. I find the brain extremely fascinating and have read a lot about it. One of my favorite authors is Oliver Sacks. Lately due to the odd things my brain has been doing with the Spanish and English I was reminded of an article I read once of his. I actually tried to look it up but cant find the exact one. So here is my best rendition of it.
There was a guy who had a stroke and after getting a little better everyone thought he was having aphasia which is difficulty with speech. But when his wife showed up she said that he was speaking perfect, but not in English. I honestly cant remember the exact language but I want to say it was Japanese. Basically his wife was from there and he learned her language later in life. You see the area of your brain that is called your speech or language center is where you originally learn your first language as a child. But if you learn a new language later it is in a different area of your brain. So this guy couldn't speak english anymore after his stroke and would have to relearn it but was able to communicate with his wife there to translate. How cool is that.
If this seems at all interesting to you, you should look up Oliver Sacks and read some of his books. The ones I read where "The man who mistook his wife for a hat." and "An Anthropologist on Mars." Both of which were amazing books, he writes in a way that you don't feel you are reading a medical journal but more about the life of the patient and how they learn to live with their disorders. Because I was trying to find the article I spoke of before I noticed he wrote about visiting Mexico titled Oaxaca Journal (2002). I plan to find this book. Here is a link to his website and a list of his books.
So hang in there all you students of Spanish and remember if you ever have a stroke in your language center you will be able to communicate still if you learn well. ;)


  1. It is interesting, isn't it? The thing about the stroke is, if the stroke damages the part of your brain you use to learn your first language(s), you might still be left with languages you learned later in life (assuming you learned one or more). It can work the other way, too, though. The stroke could damage the part of your brain in charge of acquired second languages, and you might, one can hope, be left with only your first language. This happened to my great grandmother. Unfortunately, she hadn't taught her children German, so she had no one who could understand her.

    You're talking about language and the brain - my second favorite topic in this great universe of things to talk about (the first is food). If you ever want to dork out over this kind of thing, please look me up! It's just my cup of tea!

  2. The brain is indeed a wonderful thing. My grandmother's first language was Spanish, but she also learned English as a child. Much later in life, she developed Alzheimer's. During her visit to Mexico, she would sit on my couch to read the Bible. She insisted on an English Bible. I handed it to her and she read it easily. She fell asleep for maybe 10 minutes. And when she woke up she began to read the Bible again. But she suddenly closed it because she couldn't understand a word of it. She then got upset that I had given her an English Bible and insisted that I give her a Spanish Bible. I gave her a Spanish Bible, which she read for a while before falling asleep again. She woke up and the same thing happened. Finally, I just gave her a Bilingual Bible.

    She often forgets to speak one language. One day she'll speak perfect English and forget that she can speak Spanish, and the very next day, it's Spanish only.

  3. That is neat, I have heard that there are a lot of disorders that bilingual people recover from due to speaking another language. I see it as a great thing! I would love to learn a 3rd! One day!!

  4. Vadose- Like I said I was a neurology nurse for like 6yrs I love the stuff, and I totally dork out over it. ;) You should look up those books you would love them.
    Leslie- That is such and interesting story, at least you are bilingual and know what shes saying with which ever language she speaks.
    Abby-Deff learning a new language although hard is so good on the brain.