To me, the hardest part of medical school is sacrificing other areas of your life. Whether that means time with loved ones, self-care, or self-improvement, everyone experiences sacrifice in medical school. I personally have a lot of interests outside of medicine. Not just hobbies, but other educational interests too. Learning another foreign language (or two.. or three) is very important to me. To some extent, medicine is a foreign language in and of itself (a lot of Latin). I have never lived or studied abroad in another country, which makes it a lot harder. But here is what I have done thus far to learn Spanish while in medical school.
Formal Educational Training
I took basic Spanish courses in college (French in high school), which helped with the foundation. Besides prior formal training in high school or college, I took one-on-one Spanish lessons when I went to Guatemala to work in a clinic as an EMT during college. This was definitely a game-changer. I was only there for two weeks, but taking lessons from someone from the area helps tremendously. Especially if you are in a country where no one speaks English and you are completely immersed in the language. It really is amazing how adaptable and resilient the human brain is. And I was only there for 2 weeks… I can’t even imagine what a whole semester or a whole year would do.
Medical Spanish Course
There are a ton of different ways you can learn medical Spanish. I took the Canopy Medical Spanish Course created by the NIH. The course consists of three levels with a certificate for each. It is definitely geared towards medical professionals and requires a basic understanding of medical diagnosis and treatments. I found this course extremely helpful and loved the layout.
Each module focuses on a different type of medicine. They will go over grammar, vocab and culture all related to a certain aspect of medicine. My favorite part is the variety of teaching methods. There are patient-doctor dialogues, flashcards, video lessons, written lessons, practice assignments and telanovelas with patient charts written in Spanish. They offer a free trial if you want to try it out!
Coffee Break Spanish is awesome because there are so many different levels. You can start listening to it if even if you’ve never taken a Spanish course in your life. The second season dives deeper into grammar and implements more conversation and listening exercises. The third season is basically all in Spanish and goes over more advanced skills.
Notes in Spanish is a little more interesting to me, but it is also a little bit more advanced than Coffee Break Spanish. The beginner level requires a basic understanding of the Spanish language. However, it is definitely more conversational and takes a lot of breaks to explain vocab, grammar, and cultural norms in Spain.
Both of these podcasts have a lot of free episodes available for download on iTunes! They also both have full series with notes, tips, and tricks available for purchase on their websites.
Quick Foreign Language Learning Apps
Duolingo. Honestly, this is where the majority of my actual hard-core learning comes from. It is awesome for mastering vocab and grammar. The best part is that it teaches you through exercises, rather than teaching you through reading or watching. It is a very ‘hands on’ approach to learning that really works best for me. It is available online or as a smartphone app.
Duolingo is good for giving you a basic knowledge of words, grammar, and pronunciation. The only thing that you can’t get from Duolingo is actual practice having conversations. (Although, they are implementing more conversational learning exercises!). You can know SO much grammar and SO much vocab… but then when you go to actually speak to someone you are at a loss for words. That just means that actually practicing listening and speaking is so important. It is hard to do that without a basis first. Just doing Duolingo for 10 min a day will help you a) learn new grammar and vocab or b) reinforce words you already know! This is probably my favorite foreign language-learning tool.
Memrise is another good one if you want some variety. I personally prefer Duolingo to Memrise, but I would definitely recommend checking both out to see what style you like better!
Watch TV Shows
Duolingo might be my favorite language-learning tool… but this one is definitely the most fun. You can find Spanish speaking TV shows (or movies) on Netflix. There are tons! Some of my favorites right now are El Hotel de los Secretos and The Time in Between.
If you can, watch it in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. You’d be surprised by how many words your brain will be able to recall when you are watching a story line while reading the words in Spanish. If it gets too hard, try cartoons or children’s TV shows. They tend to have simpler words, sentences, and story lines that you might be able to follow along better. If you need to, you can switch to English subtitles, but keep in mind that it’s very easy to fall into just reading the English and blocking out the Spanish!
Traveling to Spanish-speaking places obviously helps a ton. Every time I go somewhere new, I find that it is easier and easier to pick up the language again. Even if you are only there for a week or two! Being immersed in the language (especially in places that don’t speak any English) is very helpful. Again, you’d be surprised how adaptable the human brain is.
Find Spanish Speakers
I have yet to try this yet. Partially because I am very busy and partially because I am such an introvert. But there are websites you can go to to find people to meet up with and practice each other’s foreign language! Definitely on my list of things to do to improve my Spanish.
A couple of my rotations have had a lot of Spanish-speaking patients. You can also seek out local clinics that are Spanish-speaking to volunteer with!
All in all, I am not fluent (or even close) by any means. But this is what I am doing during those busy medical school years to try to keep up and improve my Spanish. I also have some exciting medical school trips planned to Spanish speaking countries… so stay tuned for more blog posts about these soon!
Have any other tips or tricks for learning a foreign language in medical school? Comment down below!