He had learned it before, but never really mastered it.
When 22-year-old Australian car-crash victim Ben McMahon woke up from a week-long coma, the only language he could speak was fluent Mandarin. So fluent, in fact, that he is now a popular TV star in China!
The incident took place in early 2012 – Ben was in a terrible car crash in Melbourne that left him battling for his life. While his survival seemed like a miracle, nobody was prepared for the bizarre twist that occurred when he finally regained consciousness a week later – his brain simply decided to switch from English to Mandarin.
“Most of it’s hazy, but when I woke up seeing a Chinese nurse, I thought I was in China,” recalled Ben. “It was like a dream. It was surreal. It was like my brain was in one place but my body was in another. I just started speaking Chinese – they were the first words that left my mouth.”
According to the Asian nurse who was attending to Ben at the time, his first words upon waking up were: “Excuse me nurse, I feel really sore here.” He apparently said the whole thing in Mandarin. Then, he asked for a piece of paper and a pen and wrote on it in Mandarin script: “I love my mum, I love my dad, I will recover.”
Ben’s doctors and family were stupefied by his affinity for the foreign tongue. Although he had learned Mandarin at school and traveled to Beijing before the accident, he had never really mastered the language. “I wasn’t consciously thinking I was speaking Mandarin, it was what just came out and it was what was most natural to me,” he said. It actually took a couple of days before he remembered to speak English.
His newfound language skills did come at a price – Ben does get tired easily and he needs to sleep more. But a host of opportunities have also opened up for him. He has conducted Chinese tours of his hometown Melbourne, and he’s now hosting a Mandarin TV program called ‘Au My Ga’ that explains Australian culture to Chinese expats.
“They’ve really welcomed me with open arms,” said Ben. “There aren’t too many people that studied the Mandarin language at this level. That really gives you a lot of force behind yourself to just keep going and going.” Ben also said that he’s just really glad he survived and that he’s able to speak a second language.