"You're gonna need to learn Spanish...." - page 6

I'm a new RN, just started orientation last week. I met with my preceptor on the floor for the first time a few days ago and he made the comment, "Working here, you're gonna need to learn Spanish". I... Read More

  1. by   medsurgnurse
    Quote from phriedomRN
    While I totally understand the OPs desire to pick up spanish, I also understand the frustration of everyone else! The times I've visited foreign countries, I've picked up at least some basic phrases before I left. I don't expect everyone I come in contact with to be fluent in English, although most are. I've had patients who've been in the US for years, YEARS and can't even answer basic questions if they're asked in english.
    Thank you. I am not anywhere near a border. But have had a recent surge of spanish speaking population in my community. I was so full of compassion trying to communicate with this non-english speaking pregnant female through an interpreter. Then in history gathering, I find this is not her first birth but fourth all in this country within ten years. She couldn't speak a word of english. very frustrating.
  2. by   jojotoo
    Quote from TeleRNer
    Sorry to be the controversial one. But wake up! These folks are in a country where English is the standard preferred language. And, it's not my responsibility to spend my free time learning a foreign toungue.

    If you're in the hospital and you only speak Spanish, get a family member who speaks English to help translate for you!

    Don't correct me on my use of your Spanish language! I'm trying the best that I know how to communicate with you!

    Excuse me! You're the one who insists on using your language to communicate with me, when I know you've spent at least a little time here and have some brief understanding of English and can trouble yourself to speak in English...this is not MEXICO!

    Gotta agree with you - 100%.
  3. by   kcalohagirl
    I also speak/understand several languages, to a varying degree of fluency. Fortunately, Spanish is one of them. Italian is another.

    While I was still in nursing school, I had a patient who had immigrated to the U.S. from Italy over forty years prior. His youngest two children were born in the U.S., the oldest two in Italy. He and his wife both spoke excellent (though heavily accented) English. He had cancer in his spine, and over the few weeks I helped care for him, the pain became unbearable and we knew his death was imminent.

    The other thing that happened over these few weeks was that his grasp of the English language went steadily downhill as his condition worsened. His grasp of Italian was better. Although my Italian is far from perfect these days, I would speak to him when I could in Italian, explaining what we were doing, reassuring and comforting him when I could. A family member was always present through those last days to help when necessary. However, after he passed, his wife thanked me and told me how much it meant to her and to him that I happened to speak the language.

    Obviously something that is not going to occur every day. But it made an impression.

    I live in an area that has a large number of Spanish-speaking immigrants. I find my Spanish skills to be very helpful. However. . . .whenever something technical needs to be communicated or something legal needs to be addressed, I always call for an interpreter. And I'm pretty close to completely bilingual. However, there is a big difference between speaking a language conversationally and communicating complex medical information. And from a legal/liability standpoint, our hospital requires that an interpreter be present when that type of information is communicated. We are fortunate enough to have a Spanish interpreter on call 24/7. We also have interpreters for a wide variety of other languages on call.

    My job as a nurse is to care for my patient using my skills and the resources I have available. I am fortunate that speaking a variety of languages is a skill I posess. I would be negligent did I not use the resource of an interpreter for a patient.
  4. by   jojotoo
    Quote from TazziRN
    I have had people come into the ER actually get angry with me because I don't speak Spanish. I've also had people who I know speak English refuse to and insist on a Spanish interpreter.

    This happens a LOT more than most people realize. And, I'm getting pretty tired of it.
  5. by   nrsang97
    I think it is wonderful that the original poster would like to learn spanish. Even just basic questions and phrases.

    However I live in a highly populated area with Muslims. Many have been here for a long time. The parents don't speak english but usually their childern do. At one facility we could usually call so and so who works across the hall on days and etc. Since it was a highly populated Muslim area we did have workers who spoke all different dialects of arabic. But sometimes we couldn't find a translator and would call family. Usually family would spend the night. Recently I took care of a male pt who could not speak a lick of english and neither could his wife. His son wouldn't stay because his mother insisted. I explained that he would be the better person to stay but he said he couldn't because he had class in the morning and his mother insisted on staying. I again pleaded with him to stay becasue I couldn't communicate with her and he still did not stay. There are rare occasions like that where the english speaking person will not stay. Thank goodness 2 other nurses were on and could speak their language due to working in Saudi Arabia or Dubai before coming here to work. If not I would have had to use language line. I have picked up little words like for pain and other things. I used that once and the pt wife thought I was fluent and kept speaking arabic to me and I kept telling her that I do not understand her. I had to keep going and getting my co workers.

    My husband's friend is originally from Romania and his wife is too. He immigrated here in his teens and has learned the language. His wife just moved here with in the last 2 years. She is trying to learn the language. So far she is doing well. She is watching TV with the closed captions and it really helps her. I read about a hockey player doing the same thing. Also my best friend is from Poland and moved here as a child with her family. She and her sister learned english from school. Their parnets took english as a second language calss. Her dad also worked outside the home and picked up english much faster than their mom. Their mom always has cleaned houses and spoke Polish with the homeowners. Her english isn't as good but has gotten much better over the years. I give her parnets a lot of credit. Her mom was a teacher in Poland and gave that up so they could come here and make a better life for their girls. So some people have the motivation to learn and fit in and others don't.

    My only objection is to people who come to our country and DON"T even try to learn the language. This is due to being able to take your drivers test in a multitude of languages. If they cannot speak our language how can they read signs. If you go to Walgreens you can get perscription info in almost any language. I saw this when I was getting my scripts filled there a while ago.

    However I would like to learn some more medical spanish so I can better communicate with my patients. In my area we have pts who speak spanish,arabic,farsi,russian, polish, romanian, hungarian, and many other languages. The Canadian border is 30 min south of me ( In Detroit the Canadian border is south) The most common being spanish and arabic. So I feel beneficial to learn some basic pharases to help determine if the patient is confused or not. Also my Aunt Mary immigrated as a child from Russia with her parents and when she started getting older and confused she began speaking russian at times for no reason at all. So sometimes the person is demented and returns to speaking their native language. I know the controversy here is related to those who have been here and don't even try to learn the language. Just remember America DOES NOT have an official language and the government is trying to pass legislation to make english our official language. I agree if you chose to live here then learn the language. If I had to move to lets say France then I would learn French. But you cannot make them speak english when you need to do your assessment if they don't speak the language. If needed find a translator or use language line.
  6. by   UM Review RN
    What we do is go to the computer, go to Dictionary.com's translator, choose the languages, type a few phrases in english and voila! Instant resource. Especially for situations such as the OP describes. Hope it helps.


    What comes out, looks like this:

    In English:

    Hello. We need to change the bag now. You should not feel any pain while we do this.
    In Spanish:

    Hola. Necesitamos ahora cambiar el bolso. Usted no debe sentir ningn dolor mientras que hacemos esto.
    Last edit by UM Review RN on Feb 12, '07
  7. by   jojotoo
    Quote from Angie O'Plasty, RN
    What we do is go to the computer, go to Dictionary.com's translator, choose the languages, type a few phrases in english and voila! Instant resource. Especially for situations such as the OP describes. Hope it helps.


    What comes out, looks like this:

    In English:

    Hello. We need to change the bag now. You should not feel any pain while we do this.
    In Spanish:

    Hola. Necesitamos ahora cambiar el bolso. Usted no debe sentir ningn dolor mientras que hacemos esto.

    I just tried this site. It's great! This will definitely help at work. Thanks!
  8. by   JeanettePNP
    To me learning a foreign language is not a political issue. It's an issue of adding to your skills and marketability. If you speak a language of a population group that's common in your area, you have a better shot at getting the job. Of course no one can learn every language under the sun and people should make an effort to learn English if they're living here, but while they're hospitalized and helpless is not the time to worry about whether they were remiss in learning English for the past 10 years.
  9. by   Megsd
    Quote from wooh
    Just because they speak English doesn't mean they're fluent in medical English, and doesn't mean that they are comfortable counting on their English skills in a stressful situation. When I'm scared and stressed, my English skills get limited, and it's my first language! If it was my second language, I'd hate to think that I might say something wrong inadvertently that could make a huge difference in my or my family member's care. I'd much rather they insist on a Spanish interpreter than give me information that's wrong because they used the wrong words.

    I want to learn Spanish. I'm trying. I speak enough that I've had new coworkers think I'm fluent. (Amazing how overhearing "My name is wooh, I'll be your nurse for the day, everything ok? Questions? I speak a little Spanish, so you speak English?" with decent pronunciation will fool people!) I can do ok on rounds with settled patients, but when I ask if they have questions, I'll get the LL or interpreter. But for admits and discharges, I want to make absolutely sure everything is understood on both sides, so I always get the LL out on those, and preferably the interpreter (I really feel face to face is so much better.)

    It would be great if they learned English before they came to the hospital. But I get lots of scared moms, and when your at home with the kids all day, you get limited practice. It's HARD to learn another language. Lack of practice is the big thing holding me back. I learn new phrases, but by the time it comes to use them, it's already floated out of my brain. These are folks that just want a better life for themselves and their kids. Yeah, there's a few rude ones, but by far, my Hispanic patients always tend to be so wonderful. They want to learn, they're grateful for the care. They're not the ones on the call light complaining that their waffles for breakfast weren't freshly prepared from scratch instead of frozen. Learning spanish is the least I can do for people that actually appreciate my care!
    I completely agree with this, and I think this is a good reason why interpreters ARE available for hospital patients. I have a BA in Spanish and most people consider me to be bilingual, but I am not very good with medical terms in Spanish, or even some simple words like body parts that I haven't had much use for in recent years. When I get nervous, I forget words in every language. If I were in the hospital and scared and alone, I doubt I would be able to converse fluently in ANY language. I would be more comfortable with someone communicating with me in my primary language rather than trying to follow along in my second language and risk missing important words or phrases that could drastically alter my understanding of the situation, or being too afraid or frazzled to ask for clarification for words I missed the first time.

    Not to mention that it sounded like the pt the OP cared for had some long-standing medical problems that probably hindered her attempts (if she made any) to learn a foreign language. I think if I were in that position, getting ahold of my health would be higher on the priority list than becoming fluent in another language.

    I don't honestly feel the case presented by the OP is a "they live here they should speak english" issue. In the grocery store, sure. At the DMV, sure. But being hospitalized is stressful for everyone involved and I do not feel it's out of line to provide language services for those patients.
  10. by   zacarias
    Hey there,

    I've haven't read this whole thread but I but I definitely believe healthcare professionals should speak another useful language. I would love it mandated in certain states but with a nursing shortage, I'd be laughed at.
    Fortunately in my case I already was bilingual prior to nursing school. It has helped me vastly with many patients and family. I will pretty much interpret everything. Consents for procedures/surgeries I still have the medical interpreters do though.
  11. by   LilRedRN1973
    I don't speak much Spanish (things like "wiggle your toes" and "squeeze my fingers" for my neuro assessment) but in our ICU, we have a pretty large Spanish speaking only community. I usually try to find a family member to translate or one our bilingual nurses (we have about 3 of them...out of a staff of 140!). If I can't do that and the patient and/or family is able to read, I go to www.freetranslation.com and type out my little introduction phrase, plans for the noc, and any commands I need them to know for my assessment. Then I print out the translated version and give it to the patient.

    We have a Hispanic nurse in our unit and she said that most of the translation sites out there don't translate correctly. They usually translate word for word and what comes out can be a bit jumbled and hard to understand. When I showed her this freetranslation.com site, she was pleasantly surprised by the fact it translates correctly and the sentence structure is right. It's been a big help with our patients and takes my level of stress way down.

    I grew up in TX where we had a decent Hispanic population. I was so against learning Spanish and ended up taking French. After years of French, I was lucky enough to go to Europe for my high school graduation present. In France, I attempted my knowledge of French; it was received badly and I was insulted by those who didn't think I was doing their language justice. Overall, it was a bad experience. I think that is why I've been reluctant to learn another language but after working for 18 months in an ICU where a lot of patients are Spanish speaking only, I plan on learning at least enough to get me by.

    We also have a lot of Philipino patients; my patient the other night only spoke Tagalog....luckily there was a nurse around who was fluent in it! I do agree that if you plan on living here, you really do need to learn the language. But I can't stand feeling the frustration that comes with not being able to communicate with my patient so I'm caving just a bit and learning to speak enough to pacify me.

    Melanie = )
  12. by   AliRae
    Quote from ChayaN
    ...but while they're hospitalized and helpless is not the time to worry about whether they were remiss in learning English for the past 10 years.
    That's why I read the whole thread before posting! Because, my sentiments exactly. It fustrates the heck out of me to deal with patients who don't/won't speak English. I also live and work in NJ, and at any given time, we'll have about half of the unit speaking only Spanish. (As an aside, not so many from Mexico ... we get a majority of South American immigrants ... Guatemalans, Ecuadorians, etc).

    However, that being said, I completely agree with ChayaN. When a child is critically ill and in the ICU, it's not the time for a parent to be forced to learn English. I wouldn't be able to lear a lick of anything if I were in the same situation. Every now and again, I'll talk to a family when their kid is getting better and encourage them to seek out classes in English (depending on how receptive I feel they're going to be to it). But mostly, I just figure they'regoing through a super-difficult time, and my job is to get their kid better, not teach them the English they've been remiss in learning for however long they've been in the country.
  13. by   Sheri257
    I agree that we shouldn't have to learn Spanish for our jobs but, the fact is, it's a real pain not to know it. I hate having to run down translators or computer programs ... I mean, who has time for that? Even if you've got somebody to translate on the floor something else inevitably comes up, they leave and then you can't find the translator.

    My soon to be future employer actually pays extra for learning Spanish. You have to pass a test and I hear it's pretty tough but, if you do pass it, you get an extra $100 a month for the duration of your employment.

    If they'll pay me ... I'll do it. I think all employers should pay for learning Spanish.

    Last edit by Sheri257 on Feb 12, '07