Whether your level is very basic, and you can only say a few simple phrases, or if you are advanced, bilingual, or native, your patients greatly appreciate that you speak to them in Spanish and you don’t need to speak perfect Spanish to communicate with them.
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You can be the real you in Spanish
Do you think that you would like to say certain things, but you do not have the vocabulary or grammatical structures knowledge to communicate fluently in that language?
It happens to me very often. Every time I speak English actually, and I’ve been living in the United States for 15 years now. I have the feeling that no matter how comfortable I feel speaking English, or the fact that I don’t need to think about what I’m going to say, and that I don’t look for the words and I don’t translate, I always feel that I am missing something.
The people around me and with whom I interact in English do not see this.
They can see my grammatical errors, my selection of vocabulary and my accent, oh my accent, that one never goes away, but no one thinks that I don’t speak naturally.
And most importantly, the fact that English is not my first language does not prevent me from communicating with English speakers.
And this is the point I want to focus on today: You don’t need to speak perfect Spanish to communicate with your patients.
Spanish can help you in your relationship with your patients
Surely your patients already respect and trust you. They have put their health in your hands, right? Every day I hear patients say phrases of thanks to their doctors and other health personnel.
But when they see that you can communicate in Spanish, their faces change, they light up.
Even if it is a small phrase, a couple of words, the atmosphere relaxes, they feel closer and better cared for.
A couple of examples: communicating in Spanish with your patients
Beginner level provider
At the hospital we cannot cover every time we are called for an interpretation. So, we often ask that they use a remote interpretation system. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
The other day I was asked to go into a room because the patient didn’t want remote interpretation, she wanted an in-person interpreter.
When I got there, the professional who was treating her didn’t pay much attention to me. She was fine with the remote and told me she didn’t need me. The patient was getting nervous and insisted that I stay.
The situation already started a bit strange, because the patient wanted me to be there, and the other person did not see the need. We start the conversation. The patient in Spanish, the professional in English and me doing my job the best I could.
And suddenly the health professional did something that completely changed the tone of the conversation.
Speaking of oxygen levels, she said “and that’s bueno”. The three of us smiled.
Then she continued speaking in English, but added
“Are mami and papi comfortable with this?
«Mami and papi bueno?»
Si, si, answered the patient, now much more relaxed.
The best thing was when reviewing the patient’s information, the professional wanted to confirm her phone number and said everything in Spanish. The 10 digits! She really did very well. The three of us laughed and thanked her very much for her effort.
What had started out kind of weird ended up being a very nice situation. Thanks to the effort of the health professional, the patient felt much more relaxed, better cared for and very grateful. We can say that she gained her patient’s trust with a very basic level of Spanish.
Advanced level provider
On the other hand, another day I went to help a nurse to discharge some patients, baby twins. When I arrived, she told me that the parents were with the doctor who could speak Spanish.
The problem is that, even if you speak Spanish, you need to be certified as a bilingual provider to be able to make the medical encounter without an interpreter. I told her that if she felt comfortable, she could do it in Spanish and I was there to correct, clarify or help if necessary.
She was perfect! And the parents of the patients were very comfortable. They never questioned why the doctor was speaking to them in Spanish if I was there. She said a few words in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily have said, but that didn’t stop the patients from understanding her perfectly.
Nobody stopped to question if the grammar was correct or if the vocabulary was the most appropriate or if the pronunciation was perfect. Communication was smooth and efficient. The parents of the babies were delighted, relaxed and you could see that they fully trusted the doctor.
Discharging your premature babies and being able to go home with them is a very exciting moment and I assure you that if they explain it to you in your own language, it is much more so.
Try to say something in Spanish to your patients
So, I encourage you, even if you are not certified as a bilingual provider, whenever you want, you should try to say something in Spanish to your patients. From a word or two, to a few simple phrases, to doing the entire encounter in Spanish.
Remember, only if you feel capable and you are in the presence of an interpreter.