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Baffled by what native-speaker patients say? 3 ways to boost listening

Understanding patients who are native speakers of English can be challenging for health professionals who are non-native speakers.

In addition to the usual grumbles:

They speak so fast.
I have trouble with the accent.
I can’t catch the individual words.

I also hear:

What’s “sickish”?
What do “crook” and “woozy” mean?
Are a “sore tummy”, a “belly ache” and a “stomach ache” all the same?
What’s the difference between “come up”, “bring up” and “throw up”?
Where’s the “funny bone”?

Sometimes, native-speaker patients may not know how to adjust their communication to make it easier for non-native speakers to get the message.

And especially when patients are feeling off-colour (unwell) and worried, they may keep repeating themselves and become frustrated when they’re not understood.

So here are 3 ways to practise listening to patients:

  1. Learn the informal words and phrases native-speaker adults and children use. Medical English books and websites often have lists.
  2. Watch medical soap operas, like General Hospital (US), Doctors (UK) and Shortland Street (NZ) to get used to accent, speed, everyday expressions and to see examples of interactions with patients.
  3. Role play with native speakers – I can help you.

There’s no instant cure.

But practice speeds up the time it takes to go from being puzzled and perplexed when listening to comfortable and confident.

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© Christina Wielgolawski