Navigating Medical Care: Tips For English Language Learners

Posted on: 14 September 2017

If English is not your first language, you know that handling stressful situations can sometimes be a challenge. Even if you are proficient at reading and speaking, the stress of a charged situation can make it harder for you to understand and be heard, especially if you are concerned about the health of a loved one or if you yourself are injured.

Here are some simple tips that can help you if you have medical problems, including the need for immediate surgery or risky procedures, in an area when many doctors and nurses might not be able to speak your native language. 

1. Ask for a translator.

Many hospitals and clinics will have translators who are on call for patients who have limited English speaking ability, especially for common second languages like Spanish and Mandarin. You will need a translator for informed consent to help explain procedures and the side effects and risks of medications and surgeries. If possible, request for medical forms to be read by the translator of they can't be provided in your native language. 

Sometimes, you might need to wait several minutes or even schedule your appointment for a day when the clinic serves more minority groups. 

2. Bring a pen and pencil.

Unfortunately, when an emergency room is busy, you might not be able to get access to a translator right away. Other patients may also need language services. If your condition needs immediate care, you might bring a pen and pencil with you to help you communicate your needs. You could draw pictures, write basic words you know, or have the care provider write or draw what they hope to do in order to provide treatment for you. You can also use the pen and paper to write numbers, like your social security number or your insurance policy number. 

3. Ask yes or no questions. 

You might not have a full grasp on fluent English, but you might know enough to ask some basic questions. In order to make sure you understand the answers, you might ask questions that only require a yes or no in response. You can ask or indicate that the care provider do the same, so that when they ask you about your injury or illness, you only have to answer yes or no. Since people can often understand a second language better than they can speak it, so the yes or no question formula makes it easier for both caregiver and patient. 

4. Ask for clear, simple words.

Unfortunately, doctors and nurses can use a lot of technical medical jargon and abbreviations, which can make understanding a little more challenging. When you're seeking treatment, request simple words. For example, instead of someone saying, "All the symptoms indicate point to hypertension," a doctor might instead say, "You might have high blood pressure." Direct, clear speaking will make it easier for your to understand based on your current level of English proficiency.

5. Keep learning.

If you have a health condition that means you'll be visiting the doctor or the hospital often, take advantage of local English classes in your area. You might even take out some books on medical language from the library so that you are better able to discuss your condition with your doctor. As you grow in your understanding, you can ask more of your own questions. However, until you completely comfortable talking to a doctor without any help, it's still important to rely on an interpreter just to make sure all communication is clear about medical instructions and consent. 

For more information on informed consent, educational translations services, and the challenges that face people who are learning English as a second language, contact local translation services for assistance. 

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Learning A New Language

After I started working hard to learn a new culture, I realized that I wanted to hone my skills and to learn a new language. I knew that it would be tremendously helpful if I could master saying a few things in a new tongue, so I worked hard. I started studying each and every day and taking every chance I could to converse with someone else in a new language. Before I knew it, I was able to communicate and it was an awesome feeling. I wanted to create this blog to help other people to learn a new language. Check it out!

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