How To Learn Medical English

Learning Medical English can be a challenge for a lot of health practitioners.  In this series of articles I will take you through some of the methods and techniques which I have used to teacher Medical English to nurses, doctors, pharmacists, paramedics, receptionists, specialists and volunteers  from around the world.  Having taught Medical English over the last 5 years I have encountered a lot of the same concerns, both on part of the medical practitioner who is looking for classes and on part of English teachers who are keen to teach Medical professionals but feel unable to skillfully manage the needs of the student.

The biggest question is: How can an English teacher, with no previous medical training, teach advanced practitioners of medicine?

The truth is that it´s not always easy.  A doctor or nurse has studied for many years to obtain the level of knowledge he/she has and the vocabulary word needed can be radically different than the vocabulary of  other English students.  In the links to further articles below I will show my methods for teaching and expanding the vocabulary of my students, even in cases where I am not fully aware of the vocabulary term used myself.

Many times a major portion of the language learning that medics need is not only related to their specific field, but to formal Business English.  While English doesn´t have a formal tense like many other languages have, there are many subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which one can speak in a refined and professional way. The choice of words, expressions, idioms and phrasal verbs that medical professionals use when speaking to colleagues or patients are often quite different than what they use when they are speaking to their friends.  By refining this aspect of speech anyone in a professional field can begin to feel confident in their communication.

The first thing I assess with the student is the exact reasons for wanting to improve their English. While many aspects of the approach in my teaching style will remain the same, the emphasis will change based on the reason for the studies.  As an example, a student who is volunteering in highly volatile areas in Africa through Doctors Without Boarders has some different needs than the doctors who are planning to do internships in Britain, are training other health practitioners, making public presentations, meeting with clients for cosmetic reasons, or who are travelling regularly to congress meetings and wish to converse fluently and correctly with other doctors.  Once the reason for the English studies has been established we are able to create and plan classes around their specific needs.

Dealing with Difficult to Understand Concepts:

It´s not possible that the teacher able to understand all the medical aspects that a specialist is working in.  Fortunately, the work we do is to teach English, not medicine, so we are able to use different strategies that can help bring out the vocabulary and explanations that are needed to work on the English. A good English teacher is someone who has the experience and expertise to be able to understand the basis of the problem that the student has in their communication – allowing them to move away from textbook style learning and into a free-style way of teaching the underlying grammatical structures that the student will need in their real-life English usage. 

Here are some of the techniques I like to use:

  • Role Play
  • Reversed Teacher
  • Tell me about your patient
  • Reading medical journal articles together
  • Correspondence
  • Presentation Review


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