Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bilingual is better!

Maybe it's only tangentially related to "medical Spanish," but check out this New York Times article on the benefits of bilingualism...

So here's yet more reason to strive for fluency in a second (or why not a third...) language.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Advanced Spanish: A serious problem....

I was recently sitting in the restaurant of a hotel close to the Lima, Perú airport, near a glass window separating the non-smoking section from the smoking section. A sign on the wall of the smoking section catches my attention, because it contains one of my grammatical pet peeves.

The sign reads: Fumar puede causar severos problemas con la salud…".

Anybody but me bothered by that?

The problem here is that a problem can't be severo; only your mom, your dad, your first grade teacher, a law, or a cop enforcing the law can be severo.

If a problem is bad, or serious, it's grave.

In other words when referring to something like an illness or a problem,  the English word severe does not translate to severo, but rather in Spanish is grave.

The Spanish word severo means "strict." Grave means "severe," or "serious."

So when you have a bad -- or severe -- disease, you have una enfermedad grave. If you have a serious problem, you have un problema grave.

Another error, probably even more egregious, is when someone wants to say "serious problem," so they say "un problema serio." The word serio means serious in the since of "sober," or "not funny."

Compare and contrast the two sentences below, one in English and the other in Spanish, but both saying the same thing:

My friend Mark is very serious, because he has a serious problem: his wife is very strict with him.
Mi amigo Mark es muy serio, porque tiene un problema grave: su esposa es un poco severa con el.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Affordable, but out of reach...

This post discusses two words that relate to both themes of the blog: medical Spanish and learning Spanish, in general.

I was reading an article in a Madrid newspaper about the healthcare reform issue here in the United States. The article began by giving a little background on the current problem of access to healthcare among the uninsured.

The specific phrase that caught my eye was “Para la gran mayoría de personas sin seguro médico, atención médica simplemente no es accesible.” What the author was trying -- but fails -- to say is that healthcare for the great majority of people without insurance is not affordable (no asequible).

Because she used the word “accesible” -- instead of the correct word  “asequible” -- what the sentence really says is that healthcare is not available (such as in the geographic sense: no doctors for miles, or something like that…).

Para la gran mayoría de personas sin seguro medico, atención medica simplemente no es asequible” means that atención medica is not affordable, or not available for economic reasons…

Para la gran mayoría de personas sin seguro médico, atención médica simplemente no es accesible” translates to “for the majority of people without medical insurance, healthcare is simply not available (because there are no doctors for one hundred miles – which indeed might be the case, but not because they lack insurance)

Asequible = affordable (or also obtainable or available, more in the economic sense)

Accesible = reachable, accessible, “handy”

For example, to play with words and say something like, "Here is a Porsche, within my reach but out of reach", you would say "Aca hay un Porsche, accesible para mi (beacuse I'm standing right beside it), pero no es asequible (because it costs to much).

The best coffee in the U.S.!!

Which Dictionary??

When trying to learn Spanish, one of the most frequent topics of discussion is about what type of dictionary is best.

For the beginning learner, the answer is easy and obvious: any Spanish-English bilingual dictionary should suffice.

For the more advanced learner, however, the subtle -- and not so subtle -- differences in the many available bilingual dictionaries become more important -- but more about that in a minute. 

First, I want to address the very mistaken idea that an advanced learner should not use a bilingual dictionary at all, but rather should use a "monolingual" Spanish dictionary (i.e. one that is entirely in Spanish). This of course is the type of dictionary that a native speaker would use. But guess what? You're NOT a native speaker. No matter how well you speak Spanish, your brain is "wired" in English. This means that there are certain concepts that you will grasp quicker, easier, and better in your own language. The advanced Spanish learner DOES need a monolingual Spanish dictionary, because certain questions about grammar and usage can only be resolved there, but in general a bilingual dictionary should be kept closer at hand.

To illustrate my point, suppose you are reading a passage that includes the word "roble" that you do not recognize. Consulting your monolingual Spanish dictionary (I'm using the one listed below...), you discover that a roble is a " Arbol de la familia de las fagaceas de hojas lobuladas y madera muy dura, cuyo fruta es la bellota, y que puede alcanzar hasta 40m de altura…” Now, I even did the work for you myself by looking the word up in the dictionary for you, but other than learning that a roble must be a species of tree, I bet you still don't really understand what it is.
Now look what happens when we consult our trusty BILINGUAL dictionary: we find the single word "oak." And there it is, instant understanding, short and sweet. 

That's why you need the bilingual dictionary no matter how fluent you are in Spanish. There are some things that are just more easily explained and understood by using your native language.

So here are the two dictionaries that I personally think are best, and that are always with me:

1).  The New World Spanish/English, English/Spanish Dictionary

Larousse diccionario Básico de la lengua española