Tips for Students


An Introduction to Spanish for Health Care Workers

Communication and Culture: Fourth Edition

Robert O. Chase and Clarisa B. Medina de Chase


Tips for Students


Getting to Carnegie Hall
This is an old one. A man in New York City asked a cabbie how to get to Carnegie Hall, and the cabbie said, “Practice!” Here’s an update. Speaking is not only the goal of language learning. It is the instructional method itself. Conversation is both the means and the ends. Like riding a bicycle or playing tennis, it is a learn-by-doing proposition. In a technical pun, grammar is a programming language; conversation is a user interface.Speak Spanish everywhere you can. As soon as you learn a new word, phrase, or question, practice using it with every Spanish-speaker you meet. Visit ethnic shops and restaurants; speak to your patients and coworkers; reinforce and consolidate your learning by using it in a natural context to make meaningful conversation.Avoid the temptation to think in your first language and translate to Spanish. Wherever possible, practice new vocabulary by drawing and labeling pictures (flash cards) and by writing sentence-length captions for your drawings. Translating is an advanced skill that requires many years of study. Speaking is something that you begin to do on page one of your textbook.In summary, we don’t learn language, we acquire it. This is why immersion is a good method. Speaking a second language requires practice. Learning happens when the learner takes responsibility for autonomous production of speech to accomplish real-life, meaningful tasks. Your textbook provides many opportunities to use Spanish in simulated medical situations with your teacher and classmates. You may feel awkward, nervous, or vulnerable at first. However, speaking Spanish in the classroom will help you achieve your goal of speaking with patients in unrehearsed settings.

A Verb’s Eye View

Many learners struggle at first with the morphology of verbs. In the book, we use a chart that looks like this:

Yo Soy Soy oftalmólogo
Eres ¿Eres de Guatemala?
Él, ella, usted Es La doctora es simpática.
Nosotros/nosotras Somos Mi esposa y yo somos peruanos.
Ellos, ellas, ustedes Son Los pacientes son interesantes

Although we usually provide several examples of sentences, here is an alternative explanation that may help you.

People speak in the first person, second person, and third person. The speaker is the first person. Speaking in first person is to speak of oneself. The first person of the verb ser issoy. It can be singular or plural. Plural means that I am including others and myself as a group.

Singular first person:

Soy el doctor López. I am doctor López.
Soy cubano. I am Cuban.
Soy de Cuba. I am from Cuba.
Soy cardiólogo. I am a cardiologist.


Plural first person:

Somos pacientes. We are patients.
Somos dominicanos. We are Dominicans.
Somos de Nicaragua. We are from Nicaragua.

The person to whom you speak is the second person. Speaking in second person is to ask about or talk about the person to whom you are addressing. In Spanish, the second person can be formal and informal.

Formal second person:

¿De dónde es usted? Where are you from?
¿Cómo es usted? What are you like?

Informal second person:

¿De dónde eres? Where are you from?
¿Cómo eres? What are you like?

The third person is someone that you are speaking about, but not the person you are addressing. Speaking in third person is to ask or tell about a third party. It can be singular and plural.

Singular third person:

¿Quién es él? Who is he?
La doctora es amable. The doctor is nice.


Plural third person:


Ellos son enfermeros. They are nurses
Ustedes son amables. You all are nice.
Jorge y tú son altos. You and Jorge are tall
Mis padres son ancianos. My parents are old.