Ben McMahon was involved in an accident that almost claimed his life and when he woke up from a coma, all he could speak was Mandarin. He remembers how on waking up, he saw an Asian looking nurse standing by his side and told her in Chinese “Excuse me nurse, I feel really sore here.” He then asked her to give him a pen and paper and wrote in Mandarin, “I love my mum, I love my dad, I will recover.”
His parents and doctors were baffled by his newly found language skill. Doctors told his parents that it would be a miracle if he survived.“We got the call from the hospital and was saying ‘Oh Mark, look I just wanted to ring and let you know that Ben’s actually started to come out of the coma’…and she said, ‘I don’t know how to say this…he’s speaking Mandarin’,” Mark, Ben’s father told Channel 10’s, The Project “Neither of us can speak Mandarin so we just nodded but deep down quite concerned about what’s going on.”
Ben had been taking Mandarin in school but wasn’t fluent at the language yet. “I wasn’t consciously thinking I was speaking Mandarin, it was what just came out and it was what was most natural to me,” he said.
It took him about two to three days to recall his English speaking skills. His new found language has since brought him huge opportunities. He now leads Chinese tours at his hometown and hosts a Mandarin TV program. He has also moved to Shanghai, where he is studying commerce at the University. He is grateful for being alive and that he can speak a second language.
Ben is not the first person to go through such an experience. In 2010, A Croatian 13 year old girl woke up speaking fluent German, instead of her native language.
Recently, a navy veteran from the U.S was found unconscious in a motel room in 2013. He could not remember who he was but spoke Swedish fluently.
Dr Pankaj Sah, a Queensland Brain Institute neuroscientist believes he has an explanation for what happened to Ben. According to him, the brain has different circuits that assist in language, speaking, breathing and thinking- just like in electronic circuits. It’s possible that the parts of Ben’s brain that could recall English got damaged during the crash while those parts that retained Mandarin got activated when he woke up from the coma.