Bridging Languages, Saving Lives


Bridging Languages, Saving Lives

Once-a-Week Course Teaches Spanish to Health-Care Workers

Excerpted from - November 21, 2005

Thea Paul's Spanish classes help health-care professionals develop a working knowledge of Spanish, which might prevent life-threatening situations for patients. She figured that teaching practical Spanish terms to health-care professionals was a fine idea, but she would need to give potential clients and customers a good reason to use her services.

Paul spent months sifting through baskets of dissertations and research papers stacked on the floor of her South Richmond home before finding it.

It was hiding in a study by TransPerfect Translations, a 13-year-old language-services company.

The results of a 2003 survey told of a mother who had been given a prescription drug meant to be taken "once." The mother, a native Spanish speaker, read "once" as ohn-say. She took 11 of the pills and died.

Nearly half the Spanish speakers in the survey said their inability to fully understand the instructions on their prescriptions led to experiences that range from bad (sickness and allergic reaction) to worse (overdoses). With a language barrier, patients can't explain their problems, and doctors and nurses can't explain their remedies.

"There was the need for some kind of cross-cultural communication," she said.

Yasmin Brown, [a] lab technician, has been in the field for 25 years, and feels the need to understand every patient she sees-so much so that she considered learning sign language.

"I see everybody—all cultures, all nationalities," Brown said. "I need to communicate with them."

—Julian Benbow

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