The boy who woke up from a coma speaking mandarin

English: SA Deo Van Tri en costume de mandarin...

After a car crash that kept him in a coma, Ben McMahon woke up speaking fluent mandarin chinese, how is that possible?

Chinese is seen one of the most difficult languages to learn, how comes you can learn it from a coma?

The facts

I truly find this case interesting for all language learners and language teachers. We need to know that this young Australian man had already studied mandarin chinese at high-school. The most impressive thing is that he could never speak it fluently before the accident.

When Ben woke up, he spoke a close to perfect form of mandarin, and had forgotten English, which took him several days or weeks to recover.

The reason why he could speak mandarin is simple, mandarin was already in his mind.

A conclusion

Getting immerse into a coma is a harmful experience that actually causes a lot of brain damage. The brain has to re-shape itself from the inside, and some abilities get dismissed.

I’m pretty sure Ben’s brain re-shaped his linguistic skills from his subconscious layer. As getting that deeper in our minds logic doesn’t work, his brain just took any language was available.

He later gained back his English linguistic competence, of course, which was also in there too.

The reason why this is possible has a lot to do with the way languages are taught. We pay too much attention to grammar and syntax instead of what really matters, speaking.

Humans are a bit reluctant to speaking in a different language, ans so was Ben, who even though had the ability to communicate in mandarin, didn’t.

But when necessity calls, the human brain takes any possible solution and mandarin was there available.

A classroom and real life use

In the classroom, we must speak as much as we can in order to develop our language skills to the most. However; some people are afraid of it, and do not think they can.

You learn to speak by speaking, not by translating or any other stuff. So despite the fact that grammar needs to be learnt and our educational system can provide it to us, we need the real thing, speaking.

In other cases, some people needed to be hypnotized to express their full potential in a second language, but we don’t need to traumatize ourselves getting into a coma to succeed.

Let yourself go, and live the language without you normal excuses and it’d work.

Keep Thinking!


  1. Fascinating article, thanks. I kind of understand what you mean. I myself have been living in a country where people speak another language as well as English, but then again as so many people speak English I never have the need to speak Bahasa Melayu. But a while ago I was staying in a place in the mountains where 99% of the people around me didn’t speak English and lo and behold I found my Bahasa Melayu flowing out of me. It wasn’t strong but I had a lot more than I ever thought. It really is subliminal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Necessity works pretty well with language learning! The problem is how to reproduce that feeling in the classroom, I guess we sometimes make it but most of the times we just rely in another language which blocks the one we’re learning. Luck with your Bahasa Melayu.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember reading about this after this man woke up. “Amazing,” I said to myself! I couldn’t imagine how something like this could happen. “Me,” who had nearly flunked Spanish during my first year of college! Your post is truly informative and provides hopeful insight into into my future. “Let go!”


    1. It is an amazing story. It is a pity some individuals must face such a traumatic experience to open their minds and see a language as a child would, adults are normally quite clumsy as we believe we know everything.
      Sometimes letting go is the best medicine, if only I followed my own advice!
      Thank you for your comment Kim.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s