Lost in Another Language: A Case Report

Husam K. Z. Salamah; Eva Mortier; Renske Wassenberg; Jacqueline J. M. H. Strik


J Med Case Reports. 2022;16(25) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: In foreign language syndrome, patients switch from their native language and fixate for a period of time on a second language. There have been few reported cases. The language switch typically occurs postoperatively and spontaneously resolves after a short period of time. The primary cause of this switching remains unclear. There is speculation about the involvement of anesthesia, but its specific influence remains unclear.

Case Presentation: A 17-year-old Dutch Caucasian male lost the ability to understand and speak Dutch for 24 hours after an orthopedic surgery, combined with a brief confused state including disorientation of place and the inability to recognize his parents. During the period, he communicated in English, which he had learned during school classes but had never spoken outside of school. Further follow-up, including neuropsychological examination, revealed no indication of cognitive impairment.

Conclusions: The exact pathophysiology of foreign language syndrome remains unclear, most specifically whether it is a syndrome of its own or a phenotype of emergence delirium. There is still much to be learned, and further research is needed.