South African Medical Journal

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How do doctors learn the spoken language of their patients?

C Pfaff, I Couper


Background. In South Africa, many doctors consult across both a language and cultural barrier. If patients are to receive effective care, ways need to be found to bridge this communication barrier.
Methods. Qualitative individual interviews were conducted with seven doctors who had successfully learned the language of their patients, to determine their experiences and how they had succeeded.
Results. All seven doctors used a combination of methods to learn the language. Listening was found to be very important, as was being prepared to take a risk or appear to be foolish. The doctors found that it was important to try out the newly learned language on patients and additionally stressed that learning the language was also learning a culture. The importance of motivation in language learning, the value of being immersed in the language one is trying to learn, and the role of prior experience in language learning, were commonly mentioned. The doctors deeply valued the improved rapport and deeper relationships with patients that resulted from their language learning efforts.

AJOL African Journals Online