Studying medicine bilingually
Studying medicine bilingually

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Studying medicine bilingually

Have you considered studying medicine through the medium of Welsh?

Did you know you can study medicine bilingually at Cardiff University? Here’s why you might want to think about it…

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Transcript: Teacher

TEACHER:
In Wales, we have two official languages, Welsh being the minority language but it is certainly, in many areas of Wales, a prominent language. There are three areas where having the ability to speak Welsh to your patients is vitally important and that’s in elderly care, in looking after children and in mental health. When people are feeling vulnerable, they do revert to their mother tongue, and even people who are intelligent, are very used to speaking their second language, being English, in everyday work life, even to their partners, when they’re ill, there is a recognised situation where people revert to their mother tongue, where they feel more comfortable.
When people are elderly, it is not unusual to find people who have had a stroke or who have dementia who are only able to speak in Welsh, for example. For young children who are raised in Welsh homes, they’re unable to speak English often until they go to school and if you can’t communicate with your patients, we know and there’s a vast evidence for it, that the treatment they have won’t be optimal. Eighty percent of the diagnosis of an illness comes from the history, and if you’re not able to communicate and obtain that history as well as possible, then that patient is not having their optimal care. For example, if you ask a two-year-old who only speaks Welsh at home ‘where’s it painful?’, they’re unable to tell you unless you ask them in a language they understand. If you ask a patient who’s confused because they don’t understand the language you’re speaking who’s elderly to communicate with you, to take medicine, to just cooperate with instructions in general treatment then they may be classed as even more confused or demented than they actually are. And there have been occasions when people have been admitted to psychiatric institutions because people didn’t understand that they actually couldn’t speak English because of a condition they had.
So, it’s important for those three groups in particular, but it’s important to realise that as Welsh now has equal status to English, the patient should be allowed to speak to healthcare professionals in the language of their choice. We understand that the majority of medial students who come to Wales don’t speak Welsh and we don’t expect them all to end up with a degree in Welsh at the end of their medical school degree, but what we hope that we’ll do with those students is to give them the ability to communicate briefly with a patient and to show respect that they understand that they have a second language. For the students who come from Wales, to medical school in Wales, we hope to give them the confidence to be able to speak professionally and socially to those patients and give them the care that they need and this is important not just at doctor level but also nursing, physiotherapy and receptionist level as well. And by changing that culture, and making sure that students who come through the healthcare studies understand that we’re not judging how good your Welsh is, we’re judging how good the care is for the patient and does the patient receive the care in the language of their choice – and that’s what we’re looking for.
The benefits of studying medicine through the medium of Welsh is that we produce young people who are confident to speak to patients, but also publically in Welsh: to the media, to schools when they go back to inspire another generation of young people. So, we’re generating confident bilingual doctors in Wales, but it’s also beneficial to the patient and whilst we’re looking at benefits to the students in particular with us, we’re looking at the benefits to the wider community, because also by showing that there is somewhere to go with your Welsh medium education then Welsh medium education throughout Wales becomes more valuable and gives a higher status to the Welsh language as well. It gives people the confidence to speak it out of work and out of an academic environment.
It’s been very rewarding so far, two years in, teaching a degree of the medical curriculum through the medium of Welsh. We’ve had small group discussions, we’ve been giving out work books in Welsh and English, we’ve been preparing lectures that we’ve been giving to the whole of the first year through the medium of Welsh using simultaneous translation for those who didn’t understand Welsh. That experience was very new but very rewarding and we received fantastic feedback because if you look at our student body, although everybody speaks English, not everyone who’s bilingual in that year is from Welsh or English homes but also from people from around the world who are from Italian backgrounds, from Gujarati backgrounds. Having a second language, we know, improves your ability of feeling less stressed in new situations, not feeling uncomfortable with strange words and we know that medicine is made up of strange words, of Greek and Latin words, so becoming familiar with a multilingual forum is very useful. These young doctors will be going to international conferences where many languages will be spoken and if we speak Welsh early in the academic career, hearing another language will be no big deal for them in the future so we will hopefully be reducing their stress in these situations, and hopefully when they go out to communities across Wales, seeing Welsh signs and hearing Welsh spoken in clinic won’t be an odd experience for them and won’t make them feel left out or make them feel awkward because Welsh is a living language in Wales and if they’re to become doctors for Wales then they need to understand that they will hear Welsh.
End transcript: Teacher
Teacher
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We need more doctors who can speak to patients in both Welsh and English.

The Welsh Government is committed to delivering high-quality health service that are centred on patients’ needs and outcomes. The ‘More than just words’ strategic framework identifies that many people in Wales can only communicate and participate effectively in their care and support as equal partners effectively through the medium of Welsh. NHS Wales therefore has a responsibility to meet people’s linguistic needs and only by doing this can it provide a service that is safe and effective.

In addition, the Welsh Government’s ‘One million Welsh speakers by 2050’ consultation paper sets out an ambition to create a Wales that responds in a planned way to the growing demand for Welsh-medium education. The plan is to increase the number of people learning and able to use the language with their families, in their communities and in the workplace.

The aim is to create the conditions whereby everyone in Wales will have access to the Welsh language, and that every speaker, regardless of their level of ability, should be able to choose to use their Welsh language skills and receive encouragement and support to further develop their skills if they so wish, in an inclusive and positive environment.

Students studying bilingually also report that they are more confident when contributing to groups in Welsh. Students report higher student satisfaction levels according to the independent Teaching Excellence Framework [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] data.

Our aim is to produce graduates who are confident with working in both Welsh and English. Take a look at the video below to find out about a student’s experience of learning medicine through the medium of Welsh.

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Transcript: Student

STUDENT:
Well, being brought up in a Welsh household and going to a Welsh medium school and doing most of my GCSEs and A Levels through the medium of Welsh, I felt much more confident studying through the medium of Welsh and being offered the chance to study an aspect of the course through the medium of Welsh in Cardiff made me desperately want to come here to study medicine. And also knowing and from talking to patients and medics as well as part of my work experience before I came to university, I noticed that the Welsh patients often felt as if they couldn’t tell the whole story to a doctor if the doctor was a first language English speaker and couldn’t speak Welsh and I found that a bit bizarre to be honest, that Welsh patients might actually not be getting the best care they could have just because they didn’t feel as comfortable speaking English as they would speaking Welsh and also knowing that there’s such a lack of Welsh medics in Wales also spurred me on to really try and, well, study through the medium of Welsh and I want to be confident in my ability to treat patients in Welsh as I am in English when I finish this course in five years’ time, hopefully. I think it’s important because now the Welsh language has, well, it’s seen as equal to English in Wales now. It’s only fair that patients are offered, they’re meant to be offered, a chance to be consulted through the medium of Welsh and it’s just a shame that there aren’t enough doctors to do so. So, as a Welsh speaking student, I hope that I will one day be able to make a difference in that aspect.
So far, I don’t feel I’ve been able to do as much as I would have liked possibly so far in the medium of Welsh in the university but that’s just because the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol wasn’t as well-established last year as it is this year, possibly. There are Welsh medium groups now in the first year so they get to discuss work through the medium of Welsh but also use the English terminology so it’s quite natural and I’m quite jealous that I wasn’t able to do that last year. But I know things are improving now and I will get more chances to do so as the years go on. I’m able to write reflective pieces through the medium of Welsh and I find this really useful, actually, because on such a busy course as medicine you don’t often get the chance to reflect at all so to be able to do that in my own language, it just feels more personal and I get much more out of doing so. And also, when it comes to exams, I’m always given a Welsh copy of the paper, which, although I don’t tend to use to answer on, I always read questions on it and it’s useful to know that it’s there as a back-up if I don’t actually understand what an English question might be asking me to do, so that’s always nice and gives me a little bit more confidence when I’m in an exam situation. It’s not the vocabulary that I don’t understand, it’s just how questions are phrased and I just find them a bit awkward sometimes to understand and just knowing that the Welsh paper’s there and that the questions are worded in a fashion that I would understand, it just helps a lot.
I’m thoroughly looking forward to my placement around Wales, particularly in the north, because I know there are more Welsh speakers there. Because in Cardiff, there aren’t many Welsh speaking patients because I have been on placements so far but I haven’t met many Welsh speakers. So, I think it’d be nice to put myself up to the test to actually speak Welsh to patients in a professional manner rather than in a day to day conversation. I know that’s definitely going to be useful, and, to be honest, it’ll be a very valuable experience for me to take with me for when I graduate.
In the first year, you get a few oral examinations but they’re always in groups and because there were a lack of Welsh speakers last year in my group, unfortunately I didn’t get to do my oral examinations through the medium of Welsh, but I know that as the years are going to go by and as the Coleg Cymraeg establishes itself much more, I know these chances will be available for Welsh speakers, and personally I know that I would have benefitted so much more from doing Welsh oral examinations because I’m much more confident speaking Welsh and I can share much more information through the medium of Welsh because I don’t feel as awkward and as embarrassed, possibly, speaking it as I do in English.
Before I came to university, I rarely spoke English, to be honest, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when I moved to Cardiff and lived with English people and had to speak English all day long. Because I come from a Welsh speaking family, we never speak English at home; my schools were completely Welsh – there were a few English people, who I wasn’t really friends with so I wouldn’t really talk to, so for me, it was only the English lessons where I really had to speak English and even then, we didn’t really speak much English. That’s why working in a café was quite helpful for me because I’ve been working at a café since I was thirteen and to be honest, this was really the only experience of speaking English I would get when I was at secondary school. So, I was lucky that I did that.
End transcript: Student
Student
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