I’ve seen this quote before (you probably have too), but came across it again recently, and it really stood out to me.
This is an interesting quote to consider in relation to language learning. If you’ve learned another language as an adult, you’ve felt how different it is to hear something said in a foreign language as compared to your native language. When you hear your native language, understanding just happens. When you hear a foreign language, it can seem like a jumble of sounds that make your head hurt when you strain to understand them. Don’t worry – this is normal and part of the process and will go away eventually. Probably not completely, but it will be much more infrequent.
Part of my motivation for acquiring and maintaining Spanish is to have the ability to communicate with others in their native language and find access to their heart, not just their head. My husband is a medical student and just started a rotation where he will be in a lot of clinics with Spanish speakers. He was given some phrasebooks and packets, and I have enjoyed practicing them with him. I always love the opportunity to use my Spanish and to remind my husband that he should improve his.
This got me thinking about what it would be like to go to the doctor (or interact with any stranger, authority figure, etc.) and not be able to understand what they were saying to you or what they were saying to each other about you. That would be really difficult, intimidating, and frustrating. There are many times I have to strain to follow the things medical professionals tell me in English… I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get all that information thrown at me in my nonnative language!
If you’re seeing a doctor, you’re probably sick in some way and thus already in a stressful situation. Adding being surrounded by an unfamiliar language is only another level of added stress. I’m glad that the medical students are given some tools to be able to communicate with patients in their own language, but it’s really not enough. Part of caring for someone is reaching their heart, not just their head. To be able to properly communicate, the doctor needs to feel comfortable communicating in and understanding the patient’s language. So what does it take to do that?
If you want to be able to communicate in Spanish, it’s important to take a communicative approach to acquiring that language; that is, focusing on communication over rules. This means practicing communication on your own in a low-stakes environment, like my husband and I practicing common Spanish medical phrases and conversations in our living room. It is also essential to put yourself in real life situations where you have to use Spanish to communicate, as he will have to do in the clinic. You can find a language partner through a site like Meetup.com or an app like HelloTalk. I’ve gone to Meetup.com groups before and enjoyed them, and I just got the HelloTalk app and really like it so far. If there is someone around you who speaks Spanish – a coworker, a friend, the barista at your favorite coffee shop – tell them you want to speak Spanish! I can’t recall a time when I’ve reached out to someone and expressed a desire to use and improve my Spanish and gotten a negative response; people have always been enthusiastic and encouraging, and doing this has been very important in developing my Spanish skills.
Another great way to practice speaking Spanish is Pars Omni Spanish Voices. Download it today and see how it can help you improve your fluency through exposure to authentic language coupled with effective learning tools.