As babies grow up and develop language skills, they lose the ability to hear and produce sounds that aren’t used in their native language. This typically happens between 8 and 10 months, and it’s one of the things that makes it so difficult to learn a new language as an adult. However, with practice, most people can re-learn how to make these sounds as part of their language lessons.
Unfortunately, for British teenager Rhiannon Brooksbank-Jones, perfection remained elusive even after years of practice in Korean. The problem? She was quite literally “tongue tied.” Rhiannon had a condition called “ankyloglossia,” in which the frenulum that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is too short and/or too thick. There aren’t many statistics available on how common it is, but a study done at Southhampton General Hospital found that about 10% of babies born at that hospital were affected. The condition sometimes resolves by itself in early childhood, but at Rhiannon’s age, the only option was surgery.
Learning Korean was more than just a school assignment for Rhiannon- she is passionate about the language and culture and intends to move to the country after graduation. So,the decision to go under the knife was apparently an easy one. She told the Daily Mail:
“I’d been learning Korean for about two years, and my speaking level is now high, but I was really struggling with particular sounds. ‘It became apparent after a little while that I was having trouble with the Korean letter ‘L’, which is very frequent and comes from a slightly higher place in the mouth than the English ‘L’, and that my tongue was too short. My pronunciation was very ‘foreign’, but now I can speak with a native Korean accent. The surgical procedure was my only option. It’s not like you can stretch your tongue otherwise. I just decided enough was enough.”
The operation, an outpatient procedure done under local anesthetic, was initially quite painful but healed quickly. She described it as “like having a tooth pulled.”
How far would you go to learn another language?