The way we speak is a huge part of our identity. So when this woman woke up from surgery to discover her Australian accent had been swapped out with an Irish one, she and the world wanted answers...
A Routine Surgery
Meet Angie Mcyen, a twenty-seven-year-old dentist from Brisbane, Australia. After seeing an ears, nose, and throat specialist for constant throat pain, she went in for a routine Tonsillectomy surgery.
The procedure to remove her tonsils went well, and the doctor was happy with the results. Packing her off home, he gave her some medicine and painkillers to be taken if the throat began to hurt as it healed. He could never have expected what would occur over the next few days.
Over the next ten days, the recovery process went smoothly. "I didn’t have any issues with talking or eating or anything like that; if anything, the throat was just very, very sore," she told 7NEWS.com.au. "Everything was normal, I was just on painkillers, so I was living life normally. There was nothing out of the ordinary,"
Then on day ten post-surgery, Angie woke up thinking the day would be like any other. She was blissfully unaware of what was coming her way, no idea how greatly her life was about to change. Feeling much better physically, she got up, dressed, and headed out for the morning.
Singing In The Shower
Having just returned home from a job interview, Angie decided to jump in the shower. Like most of us, she used her time in the bathroom to make the most of the room's smooth acoustics and sang her heart out. Britney, Christina Aguilera, and all her favorites.
But this shower singing performance was different. As soon as she began to sing, she noticed something was off with her voice. "I was singing notes that I didn’t think I could hit before, even though my throat was quite sore. I knew something wasn’t right," she told 7News.com.au. She was incredibly confused. What was happening?
Calling Her Friends
Frantically running out of the shower, Angie called up her friends. She needed to confirm that they could hear what she was hearing. Although they first laughed and assumed she was joking around, they soon realized that Angie's voice had truly changed.
They confirmed that it was not just her singing voice that had changed but her speaking voice too. "I was very shocked...I called up one of my friends who had traveled all over the world and asked where my accent is from. He said - you sound like you’re Irish," she said.
Of Irish Descent?
Where could this apparent Irish accent have come from? Many of her friends were curious if Angie had some distant Irish relatives? Maybe she had spent time there as a kid and had subconsciously picked up the accent. But Angie was confident none of this applied to her.
To make matters weirder, Angie had never even been to Ireland! She had no Irish friends either. When pressed by the Channel 10 news channel, Angie confessed that the only Irish reference she could think of was the few episodes of Peaky Blinders that she had watched a few years before the incident.
Her Family’s Reaction
Now that she had broken the news to her friends, the next people she would need to tell were her family. Dealing with her parents would be a greater challenge, so she left that for later and sent videos of her new accent to her brother and sister. How would they respond?
"My brother just laughed and said, 'good luck for your test in the hospital,'" Angie told TikTok. "My sister was like, 'oh no, I've got an Irish sister now!'" The worst thing, according to Angie, is that she no longer has her Taiwanese Mandarin accent.
Calling Her Specialist
As entertaining as the incident had been, Angie was starting to worry when the Irish twang was still prominent by the end of the day. She assumed it was a result of something from the surgery, so she contacted her surgeon for some answers and advice.
However, her doctor was not concerned. After explaining to him what had happened to her voice, he told her casually that he had actually heard of one other case like it, but it ended up fading. He told her to rest up, let her body heal, and it would eventually get back to normal.
The Next Day
Angie anxiously awoke the next morning, keen to see if her Australian accent had returned. Perhaps it had all been a one-day phenomenon, and it would be just a funny event to look back on one-day. She began to speak out loud to herself and began to smile.
In a shocking turn of events, to her, it sounded like her Australian accent had returned in complete form. Grateful and excited, she called her best friend to tell her the good news. However, mid-phone call, her friend noticed that she was slowly reverting back to the Irish accent again.
Going To The Shops
An incident out in the real world, where she saw the reactions of strangers to her voice, caused Angie to freak out further. "I went to the shops to ask for directions to go somewhere, and the person just looked at me like I had a pink front tooth," she sadly recalled to her followers.
"Why is an Asian lady making sounds and talking funny like this," she assumed the person was thinking. "I looked at him, and I tried to keep a straight face because I could see in his face he was trying to hide his disbelief without trying to ask why I am talking like this."
Visiting The Doctor
Enough was enough, and Angie decided to pay a visit to the Emergency Department for some help. The doctors on call listened to her story and took her case seriously, but after questioning her on various details and doing some tests, they decided to send her home.
Later, in a TikTok video, Angie told her followers that the doctors had told her to sit tight and let her body heal. With no typical neurological symptoms of a stroke or migraine, they decided no further tests or scans were necessary. They suggested she contact the specialist as maybe her vocal cords had been damaged.
Calling Up Specialists
Returning home, Angie did precisely what she was told and began to contact multiple neurological specialists. However, it was one dead end after another as the doctors either refused to take her seriously or insisted they had no experience with such issues.
They all informed her that they did not have an answer for her and didn't know anyone else who could help. Finally, one female doctor got back to Angie and told her that although she had no experience with this specific condition, she specializes in stroke rehabilitation and would be happy to look into her case.
Foreign Accent Syndrome
With all these unhelpful responses and no signs of a possible diagnosis, Angie was feeling incredibly disheartened. Would anyone be able to help her? Was this her new voice forever from this point on? She had no idea what the future would hold. Then a friend sent her an email...
Her friend had been sad to hear about Mceyen's struggles and had begun to research into similar cases. To her disbelief, the condition had an official name - Foreign Accent Syndrome. She had attached a link with all the reported cases and information for Angie to look over. Finally, there was some hope!
Setting Up Her TikTok
As soon as the accent had begun, Angie realized that her story was too exciting and bizarre for it not to be shared with the rest of the world. She had heard TikTok was a great way to upload videos and have people follow along, but was she ready to go public? She began to record daily updates to upload when she felt ready.
Usually a very private person, it took her some time to contemplate the decision. Finally, on day three post-accent-change, she took the plunge and set up the account @angie.mcyen. "I have a very private life, and I had to think for a day or two about whether I wanted to take my private life public,” she told 7News.
Within a matter of days, word of her story had spread fast, with many of her videos going viral. The comments and likes were increasing at a rapid pace, and people could not get enough of her fascinating story. Every day they checked in to watch her videos and hear life updates.
Of course, it was not long until the news channels contacted her for an interview. Choosing to go with 60 Minutes Australia because of their previous knowledge on the topic, she subsequently turned down appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "I was more concerned about finding out what was going on," she said of her decision.
Irish Aussie Slang
In the hopes of creating some upbeat TikTok content, Angie decided to make a lighthearted video of herself leaning into her Irish accent and attempting to say some Aussie slang words and phrases in her Irish accent. "A cold one is a beer, a barbie is a barbeque," she began to read off her phone.
"Woolworths!" Angie exclaimed in her Irish accent after being prompted by her friend off camera for saying their national supermarket's name unusually. "That's crazy; I'm even just thinking that and saying that and hearing myself," she told her friend in disbelief.
No Aussie Twang
Friday 30th April, the third day since the Irish accent had appeared, Angie was disappointed to awake and hear her new voice was still there, with no Aussie twang at all! "I am talking like I normally am, but for some reason, I can still hear my Irish accent," she said in the video.
"I'm trying to talk as normally as I can to try and remember what my accent used to be like. I'm not pretending to sound like someone I'm not, but I'm actually still talking like this. It still feels so surreal," she emotionally admitted to her TikTok followers.
Embracing The Situation
After a few days, Angie decided to embrace her new reality. With her birthday coming up two weeks later, she decided to relocate her party to an Irish Pub. After calling to make the reservation, she excitedly told her followers that her Irish accent was so strong that even they couldn't understand it!
Although Angie was choosing to see the positive side of the situation, the internet would soon flex its evil side as many unbelieving followers flocked to the comments section of her videos to bring down her positive spirits with their hurtful remarks.
Accusations Flood In
As Angie may have expected, not all the responses to her videos and stories were positive. People were skeptical of her realness, accusing her of faking the story for fame. Many messaged her privately that her accent sounded like nothing like an Irish accent and that it all seemed like one big joke.
While many may have let this get them down, Angie stayed strong. Talking in another TikTok video, she explained to her followers that those who accused her of faking the condition or lying about her experience didn’t make her angry but instead pushed her to keep spreading awareness.
Despite the overwhelming hate, Angie was committed to publicizing her situation, worrying "that somewhere in the world, someone might wake up with this one day and feel just as lost, alone, and isolated as I am. And hopefully, one day, this can be better understood."
"I hope by spreading awareness and letting people know that this is a serious health issue, that eventually we can encourage people to get the help they need and take it seriously," she said. As much as she ignored the haters, there was one person whose opinion she did she highly regard.
Now that the word was getting around, Angie knew she had to tell her mom before she found out elsewhere. Anxiously waiting for her to pick up the phone, mom finally answered and listened to her daughter's unusual and confusing recovery story. Then she went silent…
"The first reaction that I got from her was 'can you go to church now?' and I was like 'mum, why, I'm not possessed, and she was like 'you need to pray for yourself, you need Jesus,'" Angie recalled to her followers while laughing. "I thought that was hilarious because I love my mom, bless her."
Day 6: The Emotions Hit
In an incredibly emotional TikTok post, Angie broke away from her usual upbeat content to deliver a heartbreaking update on her condition. With just a plain black screen and the caption, "It has finally hit me. All the feels," she uploaded just an audio clip explaining her weak emotional state to her followers.
"It's now day 6. I think it's finally hitting me that this is something that I have to accept," she sobbed. "I just came back from my trivia night, and just speaking to other people, it made me realize that I feel different. I'm surrounded by people who speak Aussie, but I don't sound like them; I feel completely alienated."
Losing Her Identity
"I have very supportive friends, and my family are very supportive too," she continued to say in part 2 of the emotional breakdown. "But the thing that people don't see is the internal struggle that goes on. That I'm losing my identity as an Aussie Asian that's grown up in this country for the past 20 years."
"All of a sudden, I've woken up with an Irish accent, if that's even what it is, and I don't feel like I belong, and I feel alienated in my country that I grew up in." Her sense of identity and belonging was further compromised when the Irish came forward with their take on the situation.
The Irish Have Their Say
"I have Irish people who told me my accent sounds like it’s from the southern part of Ireland," Angie noted. "On some of my TikTok videos, there are some native Irish speakers who say I sound very Irish, and others who say I absolutely do not sound like them," she said. "The Irish cannot pronounce their ‘th’s, and I can."
If she's not Irish, what accent does her voice sound like? "I’ve also gotten Canadian, American, Jamaican, British, New Zealand – all over the world. And most countries I’ve never even been to. It’s very, very bizarre." But was this all a typical result for patients with Foreign Accent Syndrome?
The Experts Explain
Lyndsey Nickels, a Professor of Cognitive Science at Sydney’s Macquarie University, spoke to 7News about Angie's case and confirmed that the fact that her accent is not easily identifiable as one specific accent is a usual situation for patients in her position.
"People with foreign accent syndrome don’t speak with all the features of a foreign accent, but there are enough things about the way they speak to make it seem as though they have a different accent," Nickels told 7NEWS.com.au. "Different listeners may have different opinions about what the accent is."
A Medical Explanation
"Sometimes the sounds will seem ‘Irish,’ but other times not." Nickels clarified to 7NEWS.com.au. She confirmed that the condition is usually caused by brain damage that then causes "difficulty in moving or coordinating the muscles that we use to produce speech."
"This causes inaccuracies in the speech sounds with vowels being particularly vulnerable," she explained. "Because of the problems with coordinating the speech muscles, sometimes they might ‘undershoot’ their target, and sometimes ‘overshoot,’ depending on which happens, the sounds will come out slightly differently."
1 of 150
One of the main issues with Foreign accent syndrome is that due to its rare occurrence, patients are often accused by doctors of faking it. When pressed for case statistics by 7News.com.eu, Nickels said it would be hard to estimate how many people have the condition globally.
This, she explained, is because cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome are rarely in published academic literature. Other researchers have come forward to say that there are believed to be around 150 reported cases of the condition in the world. Angie was relieved to learn she wasn't alone.
An Unusual Case
Although Angie is convinced that her situation is a classic case of FAS, her family doctor has yet to formally diagnose her with the condition. "He said it sounds like it,” Angie said on TikTok. "He referred me to get some scans done for an MRI and also some blood tests to rule out anything underlying that could be going on."
Angie's case is extra unusual because of its timeline. The fact that it only began ten days after the tonsil surgery suggests that the two incidents are not actually related. The doctors and even Angie herself believe that if it were a direct result of the procedure, it would have happened instantly.
As unresearched and misunderstood as this condition is, there is hope for Angie to make a full recovery. Nickels explained to 7News that Speech Pathologists have proven to be successful in improving the movement of speech muscles for those suffering from Foreign Accent Syndrome.
The speech therapy can also help to improve mouth muscle coordination, improving the sufferer's overall speech accuracy. Luckily for Angie, Nickels pointed out that there's a chance things could improve on their own. "Many people will also get some spontaneous improvement in the first few weeks after onset, too," she told 7News.
One Year Anniversary
After taking some time away from the spotlight, Angie marked the first anniversary of her accent change by making a video. "Tomorrow is my one-year anniversary since I woke up speaking like someone different from my country," she said to the camera.
"I have taken some time off to re-charge," she explained. "The speech issues have improved quite a lot, but some days when I'm stressed, the stutters return, and I struggle to say some words." She then excitedly updated her followers that her case study was being put into a medical journal.
Reflecting On The Journey
Taking the momentous moment to look back on the tumultuous journey she had been put on, she told her followers that she hoped something could be learned in the future from her experience. Most importantly, she hoped it could contribute to one day finding a cure.
"In the last year, there's been a lot of good and bads that have happened. Through the experience, Angie met some great people with the same condition and even met a new boyfriend. While her Aussie accent hasn't fully returned, she's happy. "I'm glad where I am now; back then, I was lost, but now I'm good."