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Excuse my French

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Mark Cummings | 12:39 UK time, Monday, 13 September 2010

Some days on the show you do something that everyone talks about afterwards. Today was one of those days

I spoke to a woman from Bishops Cleeve this morning who suffers from Foreign Accent Syndrome. Kay Russell suffered two bad migraines at the start of the year. Afterwards her voice had developed what sounds like a French accent.

It is in fact a speech impediment. She told me how her life has completely changed and how she is coping with the condition.

She used to be a high flying sales-exec for a local company...but now can't work.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Mr. Cummings:
    Watched the BBC World segment on Ms. Russell today. Sensitively handled, and very interesting, but I have a question: Why can't she work? Is she too stressed because of her affliction, or did her employer dump her?
    Dan Mullen

  • Comment number 2.

    What the... ? How is that even remotely a French accent ? I'm french myself, so I obviously got to hear a lot of people with a french accent, and hers isn't. Like she said in the video, it's more of a russian, east-european accent.

    Still, it's both frightening and amazing. Frightening because I can only imagine what she feels losing something as important as her voice (it's already a pain when it happens when you have a cold). It's probably as disturbing as having a different face.
    And amazing because of the scientific part. Changing accent, or in other weirder case, talking another language, shows how a mysterious and complicated machine our brain can be.

    Good luck to her, may she get her former voice back.

  • Comment number 3.

    First, I would like to forward to Kay Russell my best wishes for a recovery as it surely must be very disturbing to hear oneself sound differently when speaking one's mother tongue.

    I don't know if this would be a consolation for Ms Russell to hear that her accent is not French at all it's rather Eastern European (I'm French myself) but an Eastern European lady who would speak English extremely well. I know it must be hard but that as one should try to see the positive side of things it could be the opportunity to launch into the learning of one of those languages.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Ok, i would like to forward too to Ms Russell my best regards. I hope she somedays founds her accent again.
    I'm french myself too, and this story, i don't know why, touch me deeply, and i'm not the only (French) one.
    The Ms Russell accent sounds like more a south-french accent (i'm from south, so i now it well).
    I'would like to welcome Ms Russel in our "french" world ;) and said that she is welcome and adopted by French people.
    She must turn this "particularity" in a positive way and learn French now, she will start with a significant adavantage !
    (Sometimes i would like this happen for me when i battle with my poor english accent )

    Courage Madame Russell les Ffrançais vous supportent!

  • Comment number 6.

    It's really a sad story. It really shows how our language and accent are a part of our identity.
    I also agree with the other posts. Her accent sounds more like Eastern European than French. Especially since she sometimes "rolls" the r's.
    I wish Kay to get better.

  • Comment number 7.

    Lost her job because of such a mild speech impediment? I could have understood if she had suffered a bad stroke, and had ended up with severe aphasia, but this... I mean, her former employers (and clients) must be really racist if they cannot put up with her current 'accent'! She's not groping for words, her sentences are grammatically correct, and her speech is perfectly understandable. It's not any weirder than Donald Duck's speech, or than the speech of someone who has breathed in Helium.

    I wonder whether singing lessons might help her learn to pitch her voice back at its former level? She can hear herself speak (she was complaining that no one would like to speak like that), so if she tried speech therapy, she would have a distinct advantage over native deaf people, who do learn to speak intelligibly. Of course, she isn't that young, and she's had a mild stroke, but it's worth trying.

    I speak French or German with a foreign accent (but native-like fluency and vocabulary, and correct grammar, as I was brought up in France, and have German relatives), and when I'm over there, I usually get compliments about how well I speak. People who mind my accent usually aren't from very good social backgrounds, and didn't do too well at school, so they're jealous...

  • Comment number 8.

    All things considered I have little sympathy for this lady. As she was paid £8K to leave her last job I do not understand this "having to leave". She was a salesperson of cleaning chemicals and carpet/floor cleaners. I do not see that a sales rep can be described as "a high flying sales-exec". Sorry and all that, but it is annoying to see things slightly twisted from reality and making a victim out of someone as able to work as anyone else.


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