Stroke robs man of multilingual abilities

August 10, 2011

Here’s an interesting (and heart wrenching) article about a multilingual Edmonton man who lost all of his languages after a stroke. In the Globe and Mail article, Abdul Kamal reports that, “In the aftermath of the stroke, I lost all the languages I knew – English, French, German, Urdu and Bengali. I could neither read and write nor speak and comprehend.”

Kamal is a retired professor of physics at the University of Alberta who enjoyed physics, writing, travelling, sports, theatre before his stroke, but has been unable to take part in his favorite activities.

Determined to get his speech back, he reports, “Undaunted, I rounded up my own children’s books along with picture and alphabet cards and launched an uphill battle against my formidable foe – aphasia. David drove me to the Glenrose Hospital twice a week to learn English under the tutelage of a speech pathologist.” That was ten years ago, he states. From there, he progressed from working with a speech pathologist to group language learning sessions for aphasics (people who have lost their speech due to a stroke), and working with graduate students at the University of Alberta who were working with aphasics as part of their research and academic training.

Now, at age 75, Kamal offers a message of hope to others who have lost their speech due to a stroke:

After I had the stroke, a speech pathologist told me that I would show improvements in all my mental faculties over the following year and a half. However, at 75, I’m still learning. My speech, comprehension of spoken language and syntax are still improving, albeit slowly. The message is that if you challenge the brain, it will respond. Although at a certain age our memory bank starts to deplete, I’m sanguine about the future.

Kamal’s story reminds us to value the abilities we have to speak one, two or more languages. And when self-doubt or feelings of inadequacies fill us that we are not doing enough, not good enough or not as fluent or as perfect as we would like to be, we are reminded to celebrate the abilities that we have today and commit to the lifelong process of learning, no matter where we may fall on the continuum of proficiency.

Thank you, professor Kamal, for the inspiration.

Read the whole article.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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