Lost in Translation: Student Has Tongue Surgery to Speak Better Korean

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Talk about a tongue-twister.

British student Rhiannon Brooksbank-Jones always dreamed of being fluent in Korean, living in the country and studying the culture while in college. But some aspects of the complex language left her “tongue-tied” — literally. So the 19-year-old did what many of us would never even consider: She underwent a tongue operation that would correct her speech difficulties once and for all.

According to the Telegraph, Brooksbank-Jones was born with a tongue that is slightly shorter than average, which is often caused by a thicker lingual frenulum, “the flap of skin that joins the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.”

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While not serious, Brooksbank-Jones’ condition — which, according to MSNBC, is likely ankyloglossia, more commonly known as “tongue-tie” — restricts the tongue’s movement, affecting many areas of speech.

So Brooksbank-Jones, with her parents’ consent, had a lingual frenectomy, a minor, 15-minute procedure that involves cutting an incision in the lingual frenulum to allow for better tongue movement.

Now that you’ve imagined what that must have felt like (just the thought makes our jaws reflexively tighten), we’re sure you’re wondering if Brooksbank-Jones can now pronounce her Korean ‘L’s.

“The surgical procedure was my only option,” she told the Telegraph. “My pronunciation was very ‘foreign’, but now I can speak with a native Korean accent.”

And there you have it: Trading in a little pain for pronunciation. We’re sure her speech teacher will be proud.

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Erin Skarda is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ErinLeighSkarda. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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