Is 'polyglot' sufficiency better than singular fluency?

mlong

Removed
Feb 24, 2010
10
0
0
Status
Pre-Medical
Given the myriad of languages that doctors are (or at least could be) exposed to, do you think it would be better to learn one language completely or several languages with enough sufficiency to ask and understand responses to medical questions? I generally thought knowing numbers , how to ask "where does it hurt" ,how to give a kind/reassuring word, etc. in many languages would be really beneficial. It's probably not a developed enough skill for application purposes, but it should still be useful. Thanks in advance for your comments!
 

Morsetlis

I wish I were a dentist
7+ Year Member
Jan 22, 2010
4,924
37
161
31
The "Garden" State
Status
Resident [Any Field]
You should know some Spanish if you're going to work in the US.

I would think that polyglot sufficiency is the best route to go... my Swiss mentor (MD/PhD) knew 6 languages.
 

boaz

shanah alef
10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Dec 31, 2007
1,373
25
151
bachelor pad
Status
Medical Student
My feeling is that as far as practicing medicine is concerned, it isn't worth it to know a language at a level too low to be able to communicate with a patient without the need for an interpreter. If you're going to need an interpreter, then the little you do know of the language is useless. If you have one language you really know well that's a different story. In general, Spanish is best for the US (like he/she^ said).
 

Morsetlis

I wish I were a dentist
7+ Year Member
Jan 22, 2010
4,924
37
161
31
The "Garden" State
Status
Resident [Any Field]
I am a he.

If I were a she the x-ray would have boobs! Or something.

*checks to see it doesn't actually have boobs*
 

DrYoda

Space Cowboy
10+ Year Member
Jun 22, 2008
13,817
109
281
Dagobah System
Status
Attending Physician
My feeling is that as far as practicing medicine is concerned, it isn't worth it to know a language at a level too low to be able to communicate with a patient without the need for an interpreter. If you're going to need an interpreter, then the little you do know of the language is useless. If you have one language you really know well that's a different story. In general, Spanish is best for the US (like he/she^ said).
Agree with this. Knowing how to say "what brings you in today" in 20 languages isn't that helpful if you can't fully understand the response to it.
 

she woolf

Steinem quotin' feminist
Mar 8, 2010
88
0
0
Status
Pre-Medical
I think it'd be beneficial if you lived in a very immigrant diverse city/area! I speak portuguese and really want to learn more Spanish. IMO it could only help.
 

Morsetlis

I wish I were a dentist
7+ Year Member
Jan 22, 2010
4,924
37
161
31
The "Garden" State
Status
Resident [Any Field]
The brain can only hold so much information...
 

d1ony5u5

10+ Year Member
5+ Year Member
Feb 11, 2009
303
1
91
somewhere
Status
Medical Student
Well, do you mean what would be helpful in your career or to get you into medschool, or just in general for your life?

There would be a different answer for each one.

I'll just answer in relation to the 1st two scenarios. career-wise, I don't think it would be terribly helpful for the reasons cited by others. I think it is better to know just one language really well (and hope it is not some obscure one).

In terms of medschools, I think they prefer to see continuity rather than superficial breadth. In my opinion it is more beneficial to claim you are fluent in one than to claim you know the very basics in several. It seems to me that in CV's in general, everyone finds it easy to exaggerate which languages they are barely familiar with, while I have never seen someone claim fluency in another language who I wasn't certain was claiming the truth...

As for the 3rd possibility, only you know!
 

wanderer

10+ Year Member
5+ Year Member
Dec 14, 2008
1,979
28
111
Status
Medical Student
IMO learning more than one language at the same time can be really difficult and confusing, so if you do learn multiple languages it should probably be done sequentially. To develop proficiency (i.e. being "conversational") in a few languages will likely take years unless you have tons of free time.
 

Morsetlis

I wish I were a dentist
7+ Year Member
Jan 22, 2010
4,924
37
161
31
The "Garden" State
Status
Resident [Any Field]
It definitely does not take "years". It take 6 months in immersion (living in the city). How do I think I got into honors classes 1 year after immigrating to the US (from Vietnam) not knowing a single word of English?

They put me in ASL too the first year...
 

wanderer

10+ Year Member
5+ Year Member
Dec 14, 2008
1,979
28
111
Status
Medical Student
It definitely does not take "years". It take 6 months in immersion (living in the city). How do I think I got into honors classes 1 year after immigrating to the US (from Vietnam) not knowing a single word of English?

They put me in ASL too the first year...
I wrote years for the amount of time it would take to learn a few languages. And if he's staying in the States it would be hard to be immersed, except maybe in Spanish (and even then it likely wouldn't be real immersion).
 

Morsetlis

I wish I were a dentist
7+ Year Member
Jan 22, 2010
4,924
37
161
31
The "Garden" State
Status
Resident [Any Field]
Mexico is like 10 minutes from my house.
 

z31

7+ Year Member
Jun 26, 2009
123
0
141
Status
Pre-Medical
If you mean in the medical workplace, you'll probably need an interpreter even if you're conversational in the language. There's "medical spanish" for a reason. Probably because medicine is like another language in any language!

However, based on my experience shadowing/working in a few countries, I can see how it would be important to understand a language even if you can't speak it fluently. That way you can sense for yourself whether the patient understands, whether the interpreter's not translating the degree of frustration/pain from the patient to you, or maybe omitting some information when translating from you to the patient, etc.
 

mlong

Removed
Feb 24, 2010
10
0
0
Status
Pre-Medical
If you mean in the medical workplace, you'll probably need an interpreter even if you're conversational in the language. There's "medical spanish" for a reason. Probably because medicine is like another language in any language!

However, based on my experience shadowing/working in a few countries, I can see how it would be important to understand a language even if you can't speak it fluently. That way you can sense for yourself whether the patient understands, whether the interpreter's not translating the degree of frustration/pain from the patient to you, or maybe omitting some information when translating from you to the patient, etc.
I hadn't actually considered this angle. Thanks.

As per most everyone else, you said pretty much what I'd thought. Still, to confess, I was hoping someone would agree with me and list several useful medical phrases. Perhaps in the future I will be more forthcoming; I'm nothing if not obstinate.

Still, I think I'll try to become fluent in one or two languages, even if the immersion part doesn't look possible right now. And even if it was, it occurs to me that with the internet, phones, etc. a translator is an electrical gadget away anyway. And even is gadgets weren't available, full fluency sounds fun and all around more useful.
 

Practitioner

SDN Lifetime Donor
Lifetime Donor
Jul 8, 2009
248
0
0
Delocalized
Status
Pre-Medical
I interpret a lot as part of my job and here's what I've noticed:

Interpreting sucks, there's so much subtlety that is lost when interpreting. When a doctor asks our patients "what kind of pain is it?" and the patient describes it, if an interpreter didn't have a pre-med background or a genuine interest the difference between "pain from surgical scar" and "pain like before surgery" could be lost, as one example. I find too often that my colleagues or me are helping doctors come to conclusions by trying to make suggestions to fill in the gaps in communication.

On the other hand, it happens very often, practically at every appointment and everyday, that a patient and doctor "communicate" with body language. The doctor will ask a question and parents will respond before we translate anything. Or the opposite happens where a patient replies but the doctor just says "okay, I got that."

A couple of my friends had to train with patients who didn't speak their language and without an interpreter too. They joke all the time about their devised ways of taking histories. ("Heart problem in family?" in charades, anyone?) Somehow, they got it to work.

In light of this, I think in terms of practical application, fluency is far more important. For me, that is Spanish. However, learning a few words in several languages is also useful as far as establishing trust with your patients. Knowing how to say "Hello", "How are you?", "Thank you", etc will be appreciated. I work with a cardiologist who knows a few words in Arabic and never fails to impress a family. He says his hi and hello so well some families believe he is fluent. It's a great ice breaker and definitely helps the families feel more at ease.