The culture of dialect

In a previous post, I alluded to the impact of dialect variation on doctor-patient communication. Dialect variation is a cultural aspect that plays a role in our word choice, accent and the expressions we use. However, it should be noted that when I refer to dialect variation in this post, it is in reference to the variation in words and expressions between dialects and not that of pronunciation. Each person´s dialect is influenced by their place of origin (not only the country and region but also whether they are from an urban or rural environment), socioeconomic status and education among other factors. These elements do not change or disappear when we go to a doctor and, for that reason, non-standard language will also appear in the medical setting. Thankfully, due to the formal nature of a clinical setting, we tend to notice these differences less in the health field than on the street. Nevertheless, dialect variation is still an important factor to consider when we teach Spanish for healthcare in order to adequately equip medical professionals with the skills to communicate effectively with the patient.

In the United States, we find a wide range of dialects within the Spanish language originating from a variety of countries and regions. This diversity, while linguistically interesting, can be overwhelming for a second-language learner. For that reason, we should wisely choose the variants that we include in our courses striving to incorporate the ones that are used most frequently or that are most worthwhile. For example, teaching terms such as ¡ándale! that are frequent in the medical setting should be weighed again terms such as culebría (shingles) or farfayotes (mumps) which are also used frequently by patients, yet have a more direct correlation with the medical outcomes. Pujol Vilà (1994) explains that the lexicum we choose should be that which best prepares the student for the reality they will face: “el objetivo no es sólo enseñar cantidad de vocabulario para saber más sino ofrecer calidad en la enseñanza para conocer mejor y poder enfrentarse con buenos resultados a nuevas situaciones”.  Although there is no current list of dialect variations that frequently appear in the medical setting, my current work strives to make one available.

Next week, I will discuss how and when to incorporate these dialect variations in a Spanish for medical professionals course.


Vilà Pujol, María (1994): «Dialectos, niveles, estilos y registros en la enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera» [en línea], Marco ELE 8, págs 205 – 216 <> [Consulta: 14/05/2013].


About abennink

Spanish and English instructor, medical interpreter and health educator. My passion around healthcare, equality, languages and education motivates me to continually seek to develop my skills in each area while also designing ways to use each one to improve the others.
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One Response to The culture of dialect

  1. Pingback: Literature Analysis on Dialect Variants at the CSIC | Ayuda, doctor

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