ACQUISITION OF THE SECOND LANGUAGE BY PATIENTS WITH BRAIN INJURY AFTER PROLONGED COMA
Eight patients with cranio-cerebral trauma after prolonged coma participated in a study investigating their ability to learn a second language (L2). A severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) results in a dramatic decrease of consciousness and cerebral activity. If the state lasts more than 48 hours, it is considered a coma. Due to irreversible changes in the brain, chances of regaining premorbid physical and mental functions drastically diminish after 4 weeks of coma. Only a limited number of post-coma patients succeed in regaining full efficiency. The present study verifies whether it is possible for these patients, for whom it takes months, sometimes even years, of regular exercise to regain normal language functions in the native language, to learn an L2. The experiment was carried out within 'The Academy of Life', a program of classes for in- and outpatients, whose aim is to re-adjust patients to everyday life in society after discharge from hospital. All the subjects had known English to some extent before their accidents. There were 18 sessions lasting 1.5-2 hours within a period of 6 months. The subjects were examined twice: before and after the program. The results show that learning an L2 is still possible. The subjects improved their performance in the following language components: lexicon, grammar and pronunciation. The acquisition process was delayed by post-traumatic aphasia which led to a lack of criticism of the patients' own utterances, as well as a dysfunction of the switch mechanism. The subjects also suffered from disorganization of memory and concentration. However, some patients achieved higher results than it had been expected. The relatively young age of the subjects (mean 20.6 years) increased their chances of learning an L2.
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