Kent woman describes 'racism' she's faced after developing sudden foreign accent after migraine

  • ITV Meridian's Sarah Saunders speaks to Julie Matthias.

A mum from Kent who developed a foreign accent after suffering a severe migraine says she was left frightened to speak after suffering racism.

Julie Matthias from Chatham is one of only a handful of people in the world who live with Foreign accent syndrome (FAS).

The speech disorder causes a sudden change to speech so that a native speaker is perceived to speak with a “foreign” accent.

It's often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Julie has been living with the condition for 12 years - but the mum of two is regularly mistaken for being Chinese, South African, Italian or French on a daily basis.

Foreign Accent Syndrome is a disorder that causes a sudden change to speech. Credit: ITV Meridian

Julie was at work at her hair salon one day when she began feeling unwell. Her client called an ambulance, believing she had suffered a stroke.

"My speech went, and I couldn't walk properly," Julie said.

"I couldn't use my arms very well and I was taken into hospital suffering a suspected stroke.

"Lots of tests went on but the stroke team said it wasn't a stroke. My speech was still not there and I was having to write things down to communicate and I had a walker frame because I couldn't walk.

"It was a very scary time.

  • Julie Matthias said she now knows when it's comfortable for her to speak in public.

She says she was forced to close her hair salon after losing her confidence because of the racism she has suffered.

She stopped speaking in public as she felt embarrassed.

"The accents people think - I've had Spanish, Italian, French, German, Swedish."

Julie is now calling for more research into her incredibly rare condition.

Professor Sophie Scott who works in Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London said: "The problem is, when we're listening to other people, we're always trying to work things out about them from their voice.

"How people speak is a big cue to lots of things about them including where they come from.

"When we hear an unfamiliar accent, we will try and place it, so with Foreign Accent Syndrome it's more in the ear of the listener than it is in the voice of the person speaking."

What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?

Foreign Accent Syndrome, is an unpredictable condition which causes people to sometimes speak with a foreign accent.

The condition only affects around 100 people worldwide.

It is most commonly caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Other causes have also been reported including multiple sclerosis and conversion disorder and in some cases no clear cause has been identified.

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