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Friday, August 12, 2011

Student obsessed with Korean culture has tongue surgically lengthened on NHS to help her speak the language

By Daily Mail Reporter


Student Rhiannon Brooksbank-Jones dreams of living and working in South Korea once she finishes university, even though she has never visited the country.

But while taking language lessons, the 19-year-old found that she couldn't pronounce certain crucial sounds in the Korean alphabet.


Her dentist suggested it may be because she was born with a slightly shorter than average tongue, caused by having an unusually thick lingual frenulum - the flap of skin that joins the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.

Language barrier: Rhiannon had her tongue lengthened by one centimetre to help her pronounce Korean words

Language barrier: Rhiannon Brooksbank-Jones, from Nottingham, had her tongue lengthened by 1cm to help her pronounce Korean words

After discussing the matter with her parents and language tutor, Rhiannon decided to undergo an operation to correct the condition, despite the fact it has never caused her any problems in speaking English.

She underwent a lingual frenectomy, which involves making an incision in the flap of skin. As a result, Rhiannon's tongue is now about 1cm longer, and she can say words that were impossible before.

Rhiannon, of Beeston, Nottingham, said: '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.

'For me it was an important thing, because I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and if I can't do it perfectly, it really irritates me.

Mother tongue: Rhiannon became obsessed with Korean culture at school

Mother tongue: Rhiannon became obsessed with Korean culture at school

'Some might say it's extreme, but you could apply the same argument to plastic surgery.

'That makes people feel more confident looks-wise, and this made me feel more confident language-wise. For me, it was like having a tooth pulled.'

Rhiannon is currently awaiting her A-level results, and hoping to study Korean Studies and Business Management at the University of Sheffield.

The four-year course includes a year at Yonsei University in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

She added: 'I think this will show real dedication. It will prove I'm not just going to drop out after a year.

'In Korea they like good students, and I think having my tongue lengthened will be a real help with the course, especially during my year in Seoul.

'I'd love to live and work in Korea one day and being able to speak perfectly will really benefit me.

'Native English speakers can earn quite a lot of money in Korea, so that's another option.'

The 20-minute operation was carried out at Nottingham's Queen's Medical Centre under local anaesthetic.

Being born with an unusually thick lingual frenulum - a condition known as Ankyloglossia, or commonly as 'Tongue Tie' - meant Rhiannon qualified for the procedure on the NHS.

She said: 'I was a bit nervous, and it was agony at first, but healed within two weeks, and I noticed the difference instantly. Suddenly I was able to pronounce words I had no hope of before.'

Rhiannon became interested in the Asian nation's culture through a friend at school.

The teenager said: 'She was into Korean pop and television programmes, which I would listen to and watch at her house.

'Most of my free time was soon taken up with Korean things. Now I visit a Korean Church in Nottingham, where I do bible readings in Korean, and can't wait to visit the country itself.

'Korean people can be quite reserved at first, but once you get to know them, they are very warmhearted. They'll do anything for you.'

Rhiannon's mother, Fiona Brooksbank-Jones, 56, said she supported her daughter in undergoing the procedure.

She added: 'As her parents, we welcome her interest in other parts of the world, and are very proud of her.

'I've heard of people having the condition corrected as babies, but never later in life. But we looked into it, and have backed her all the way.

'When she sets her mind to something, she usually goes for it wholeheartedly, and this was no different.'