I used to hear people say “don’t believe everything you read in the papers”. Now I think a better phrase might be “believe nothing at all, you read in the papers”. From completely fictional accounts of events which didn’t happen to wholly dangerous medical advice.  

The list is endless and I won’t bore you, but I do want to share a story that tickled me. This is the story of Alun Morgan who woke up from a coma suddenly able to speak a foreign language. I like this story because it’s so absolutely ridiculous I can’t get angry, I just found it almost charming. At first glance it’s an incredible story:

Alun Morgan, 81, was evacuated to Wales in World War II as a child and had never learned the language.But when he regained consciousness after the serious stroke, he was FLUENT in it.(the sun)

Wow! The guy became fluent just by having a stroke?! amazing! 

An English man woke from a stroke to discover that the only language he could speak was Welsh. Alun Morgan, 81, was forced to re-learn his native tongue, despite the fact that he had never been able to speak fluent Welsh. (Daily Mail)

OMG!  That’s incredible but didn’t you say he used to live in Wales as a child?

During his time there he was surrounded by Welsh speakers but never learned the language himself (Telegraph)

Astounding, so what you’re saying is he basically knew no Welsh,but just started speaking it! Tell me more!

An 81-year-old Englishman woke after a serious stroke to discover he could speak Welsh – despite spending only a few months there as an evacuee during the Second World War. Morgan grew up speaking English, but after his stroke, lost the ability to communicate in any language but Welsh, even though he was last there 70 years ago. (independant)

Ah so he only there for a few months and he never learnt the language but he became fluent…well in that case this really is incredible news. Unless there are some other details that you’re perhaps not telling us?

Apart from the single, short spell, the retiree has spent his life in England,

ok Go on…

although his grandmother – with whom he lived during the war – was a Welsh speaker, as is his wife.

Oh you just thought you’d drop that in there did you? So his wife is a a Welsh speaker as was his grandmother. hmmm well, still he only lived there for a few months right? So not really enough time to become fluent.

He lived in Aberaeron, in mid Wales, for four years from the age of nine (BBC)

 Huh!? So now a few months is a few years!??! And while he was a child, -y’know that time in our lives when language learning tends to be a bit less troublesome?!

Both Mr Morgan’s parents also spoke Welsh (Mail)

Srsly? are you kidding me?

 “We were London Welsh and I learned a bit of Welsh when I was in London. Then, when I was evacuated to Wales during the war, we spoke it virtually all the time because my aunt didn’t speak much English, so I had to pick it up very quickly.”(BBC)

So what you’re saying is, he was basically a Welsh speaker from a Welsh family who went to live in Wales for about four years  as a kid and became fluent and who lives with a Welsh speaking woman. For some reasons newspapers think it is somehow incredible that this person might be able to speak Welsh.  basically these stories should have been titled “Fluent Welsh speaker, from Welsh family who used to lived in Wales and is married to a Welsh woman, finds he can speak fluent Welsh.” Yeah, sure, it’s interesting that the guy seemingly couldn’t use English for a few days but he had a stroke and the brain is a complex organ as far as I can tell nothing miraculous happened here. The excellent Steve Novella of Skeptics Guide to the Universe who is a neurologist notes of a similar story of a young Croatian girl becoming magically fluent in German:

Now the interesting part is that after she woke up from the coma she could speak German a lot more fluently than before and not a word in Croatian. My guess is that Sepsis caused a brain damage in left temporal lobe. Probably mostly in Broca’s Area, thus disabling her in speaking Croatian but not damaging her knowledge of German language. At that point her brain probably switched to best alternative and her passive knowledge of German sprang to life. Without possibility to fall back to Croatian vocabulary there is no dilemma in which words to choose and how to use them so her German must have sounded a lot better to doctors and her parents. (neurologica blog)

This story like so many others is reproduced almost word for word on many thousands of websites. Who cares about the truth right? It makes a good story, and that’s all that matters.


  1. Great story (yours, I mean). The mention of brain switching to best alternative made me think about the way my brain has sometimes seemingly gone into 'foreign language mode' and when a word is missing in one language, it's supplied it in another language, rather than come up with a blank. So the odd word of Portuguese gets unconsciously slipped into a Polish conversation etc. Or is that just me?!


  2. \”This is the story of Alun Morgan who woke up from a comma suddenly able to speak a foreign language.\”Yes, I often find my night's sleep is punctuated by strange events.


  3. well sadly there isn't much difference! The mail pretends to be but isn't, the sun and the mirror aren't, but have the highest audience numbers, the telegraph, times, independent and guardian all would say they were reputable.


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