Translating for a lung specialist

« Puis eeh oui c’est comme une caméra, qui entre par la bouche… ah non par le nez, pardon, et ben, on regarde les poumons avec ça. C’est très important pour l’enfant.»

You might be looking forward to a blog entry about the beauties of French now, but I have to break it to you. This scene did not take place in France, but actually in a hospital in Florence. Why should one care to speak French there? Well, not only les français are known for the perceived superiority of their language, but also gli italiani are very proud of Dante, Petrarca & Co.. That is why unfortunately you will not find many doctors speaking foreign languages in Italy. And this is the point where medical students in Erasmus come in.

Understanding what the Italian lung specialist said and furthermore explaining a bronchoscopy in French to the mother of the patient was all in all a rather bewildering experience. For one part, Lung pathology and examination are certainly no topics I feel competent about yet. I am still far from being a doctor and did not feel at all like one in this instance. Furthermore, though better than my Italian, my French is not suitable for medical conversations. In fact, I learned French on farms whilst making cheese, so my forte is primarily the agricultural vocabulary. Therefore, switching between my rudimentary Italian and rustic French proved to be quite a challenge. I have always loved languages and strived to improve my communication skills, but at this point my head was just spinning. Maybe it was too much. Or maybe that is just the way you learn.

I remember learning Italian in school. Step by step, always a hundred exercises first and in the end never really using any of it. Then, coming to Italy and being surrounded by a thousand impressions and people talking, or as in most cases shouting. I was very much overwhelmed, just like in the hospital translation situation. But after a few days or weeks of confusion this got better. I learned how to differentiate between the different sounds of vowels Italians produce whilst shouting – This process was very much supported by my neighbors shouting at night – and how to understand Italians when they talk fast and in dialect – you do not. Still, I managed somehow and my Italian improved, of sorts.

So I guess I really am a supporter of “exposure therapy” when it comes to learning new languages. There is not much coming from learning a language in theory and never applying it. Why even learn a language in the first place if you never put it to use? The language would then only serve as kind of a mind jogging, a good training for your brain to understand things differently. Latin is probably the best example for this. But, at least to me, languages are a lot more than that. I learn languages mainly for one reason, or more concisely, for one moment. This one moment, when you realize that you just expressed your opinion on a topic without any restrictions. When you realize, you spoke your mind. Senza language barriers.

So even if my head was spinning the first time in this hospital translation situation, next time I already might be able to express myself more freely and feel more comfortable (if I ever have to translate again for an Italian lung specialist, that is).

Sebastian Albermann

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