Campus News

Online Spanish Class for Health Professionals Fills Need

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 7, 2011)– The University of Kentucky's Department of Hispanic Studies is expanding its online course selection this summer to encompass an expanding foreign language need in the community, the Commonwealth and across the globe. Spanish for Health Professionals is the name of this wholly-online summer course, and fundamental health language, Hispanic culture and lifestyle are the topics at hand. 

The College of Arts and Sciences offers Spanish for Health Professionals, or Spanish 151, in the classroom during the school year as the student need arises, and while the summer course is open to traditional students, Hispanic Studies is also focused on nontraditional students both locally and globally. 

"A class like this does not require fluency," explained Hispanic Studies professor and course director Haralambos Symeonidis, "but it is no less important. This is an attractive class for students and health professionals alike." 

Spanish for Health Professionals will emphasize establishing meaningful communication with patients in a clinical setting, rather than basic grammar. 

"In every language class we aim to give students meaningful, contextualized practice in four primary areas: speaking, listening, writing and reading," said doctoral student Ruth Brown, who will be teaching the class. 

The course has no prerequisites, but a background in Spanish is encouraged. The class will be taught in both English and Spanish. "We've found that teaching nonlanguage classes in Spanish distracts from the material covered. Students are also not as comfortable expressing themselves either," Symeonidis said . "While most students enrolled in this course will have some sort of Spanish background, we don't want language to be a distraction." 

Learning a foreign language is quite an interactive process, requiring "input and student motivation," as the Spanish 151 syllabus reiterates. To get around these obvious difficulties with an online foreign language class, Brown is planning simulations, readings, vocabulary exercises and oral presentations. 

"While reading and writing are a natural fit with the online context, ensuring that students get ample practice in the listening and speaking areas has been more of a challenge," Brown said. "Luckily, we have some great technologies at our disposal. The text and online companion site that we are working with offers listening activities recorded by native speakers and has a feature that will allow students to make voice recordings that I can check and give feedback on."

The virtual class will also meet once a week using Adobe Connect Pro, which allows students to break into small groups to practice conversation, just as they would in a brick and mortar classroom. Finally, students will meet individually with Brown (again, using Adobe Connect Pro) twice during the semester to complete oral interviews in Spanish.  Brown says the combination of exposure to native speakers via listening activities and ample practice of speaking skills will offer students a strong preparation. 

The ability to use the Spanish language in a practical way is increasingly valuable to students, especially those who are working in, or planning to work in, the health care field. Before returning to school to complete her doctorate, Brown worked for seven years as an interpreter and service provider with the Hispanic community in Lexington. 

"During that time I gained an appreciation of the practical applications of language learning and saw firsthand how much of an impact a service/health provider can make when he or she knows even a little Spanish," Brown said. "We are not just looking at language from the perspective of grammar and vocabulary in this class. Instead, we are using the language in the health care context and simulating situations that students will encounter in the real world. We will also be examining how issues of cultural and linguistic competency affect the delivery of health care services to Hispanics. These are skills that will help students, traditional or not, relate to their patients and clients in a meaningful way and provide them with excellent service and care."

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