Language is a tricky thing. We rely on it so heavily as our main form of communication, but often it is more than just words and grammar that help us communicate. One of the challenges of learning a new language is getting to know the intricacies of that language. It is almost impossible to do a direct translation from one language to another if you want to ensure that what you are saying makes sense. If you have ever tried to translate something for yourself using a bilingual dictionary and then asked someone fluent in both languages to look it over you will see this. We have been experiencing this a lot at work lately in translating documents from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English. You might know what the direct translation of the word is, but when you put it into the sentence it just doesn’t fit. Another challenge I have found here is translating medical language. Medical terminology is a language in and of itself, and even back home I have often had to translate something from ‘medical English’ to ‘normal English’ when talking with patients. For example someone hearing that they have cerumen in their ear can make people much more concerned than hearing they just have some ear wax in there. Fortunately a lot of medical terminology is based in Latin, which helps it to cross borders, but medical types sure do love their abbreviations and short hand for anything from labs to diagnoses to prescriptions. This is where I usually get stumped, often while looking over an ultrasound or reading hand written lab results. Also there are words used here to describe conditions or sensations that you just don’t hear in Canada. For example an “aire” is air, and people will say that they caught an air and it is causing them anything from back pain, insomnia, or a cold. I don’t just have difficulty translating what I am hearing or reading, but also what I am saying or the concepts of naturopathic medicine that I know. Especially when it comes to homeopathy and acupuncture, which can be a trial even back home. Trying to tell someone scared of needles that I am going to put tiny needles in them to take away their pain and it won’t hurt isn’t always easy, nor is telling people that the little white tablets they dissolve under their tongue are really going to make them feel better. Lucky for me lately I have patients helping me on this as they have seen results and so are telling all their friends.
Beyond actual words, there are things that seems to translate no matter where you are or what language you speak. Nervous patients being brought in by family members, patients scared to go get a certain lab test done or routine exam for fear what the results might be. Relief when they finally go get those done and it turns out that they are just fine or that it is something easy to treat. I find that true emotion always translates well, no matter where you might be in the world. As my ability to recognize this in others and let them talk I find that I am able to help people express how they are feeling and then I can answer them so that they understand the reason I am asking them to get a lab or exam. Sometimes I don’t even need to say anything and they are able to talk themselves through whatever they were concerned about. Other things that don’t need language to be translated are things like friendship, music and the possibility of a girls night out.
I am still working on learning the Spanish language, let alone the proper tenses, conjugations and local lingo. A friend of mine once wrote an article about how when learning a new language you come to realize that you may not fully know your own. I am also experiencing that as I have many people who now come to ask me to teach them English. Often I will suggest a trade where they help me learn Spanish, and a caveat in that my English is far from perfect. My neighbours have helped me with my Spanish since the beginning, they correct me when I use the wrong word or tense and are patient with my charades to help me learn new words. Ashley, who is 12, will periodically quiz me on words she taught me weeks ago to see if I still remember them. Lately at the hospital, I have admission staff that come over to for my help with their English homework and proper pronunciation. It is during these “lessons” that I learned a very interesting fact that is helping me while I learn Spanish – what people think they say may not actually be what others hear them say. Many times I feel like I am repeating the word exactly as they said it, but no I am not or else they probably wouldn’t laugh and shake their head while saying it again. I also am terrible with grammar. It has never been my strength; in any language I have learned including English. Fortunately for me a friend who works at the hotel where I go to use the internet is not shy about correcting my grammar and then making me repeat it properly.
This week has been quiet both in the clinic and at home. I think most people are getting ready for Semana Santa and I have been told by many people at the hospital that it quiets down in April before picking back up in May, when the rainy season starts. Working at the hospital is starting to feel less like the a new kid at school, in particular the strange foreign exchange student. I am getting to know more of the nurses and other staff that work with me, and more often than not have someone to talk to while I eat lunch. Usually not for the whole lunch hour as I still am the slowest eater on the island, but I will take what company I can get.