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Professor writes Spanish textbook for health professionals

With the growing number of Spanish-speaking patients who visit emergency rooms and doctors’ offices across the country, medical professionals often confront language barriers that can hinder treatment. Public health researchers have taken note, and a new introductory Spanish textbook authored by Elon University professor Ernest Lunsford takes aim at the problem.

“There is an urgent need for more people—doctors, nurses, emergency room and ambulance personnel—who know Spanish,” said Elon University professor Ernie Lunsford.

Published this winter by Pearson-Prentice Hall, ¡Salud!: Introductory Spanish for Health Professionals comes packaged with a workbook and DVD that teaches basic language skills, vocabulary specific to medicine and health, and cultural norms. Lunsford collaborated with colleagues at UNC Chapel Hill to produce the multimedia resource for students new to Spanish.

“They wanted to create a course to teach Spanish to people who work in the healthcare field for the obvious reason that the Hispanic population in the United States is exploding,” said Lunsford, who noted that when immigrants are sick or injured, even if they speak English, they revert to their native language. “There is an urgent need for more people—doctors, nurses, emergency room and ambulance personnel—who know Spanish.”

The book is designed for multiple modes of instruction. It can be taught in a traditional classroom setting, Lunsford said, or it can be used with distance learning. He added that ¡Salud! also targets people who want to teach themselves Spanish at their own pace.

In addition to grammar and vocabulary, the book offers lessons about culture, or behavior and practices that could lead to misunderstandings. For example: Hispanic patients sometimes avoid maintaining eye contact with medical practitioners and health care providers, Lunsford said, but rather than ignoring professionals, it’s because in some cultures that’s a way to show respect.

Dates and calendars also differ. In Spanish-speaking nations, calendars have Monday on the left and Sunday on the right, and dates are abbreviated differently: 5/12/2011 is May 12 in the United States, but for Hispanics, it’s Dec. 5. Health care workers also need to know to use formal forms of address when speaking with adults, but familiar forms with children.

“I’m excited about having the book out,” Lunsford said. “It’s been a four-year process … And I feel that it fills a real need here in the United States.”

The team used a grant from GlaxoSmithKline to hire a professional scriptwriter and DVD production team to create the dramatic series similar to a telenovela, or soap opera, that tells the story of a Mexican family who relocate from Denver to the imaginary North Carolina town of Laurelville. The series follows the fortunes and health problems of the family as members adapt to their new home.

Much of the action in the dramatic series revolves around the Latino community center and health clinic in Laurelville, although some of the scenes were filmed in Mexico.

Colleagues in the ¡Salud! project praised Lunsford for creating with them a resource that thousands of students will use. “What’s been available (for health professionals) are books intended for five- or six-week mini-courses. They present a few things, but they mainly just contain lists of vocabulary,” said Elizabeth Tolman, ¡Salud! project director at UNC Chapel Hill. “There’s nothing equal to this on the market. People have talked about using it not just for the health profession, but for lawyers, police and educators. The materials are so rich, even though the vocabulary – some of it – is specific to health care.”

“Ernie’s very meticulous, and that was super helpful in reviewing hundreds of pages, dozens of times. He has an eagle eye. And he’s very funny. Instead of being a tedious process, the humorous asides he threw into his emails made this enjoyable.”

¡Salud! is Lunsford’s second book. In 2003, the North Carolina native published En otras palabras: Perfeccionamiento del español por medio de la traducción, co-authored with Pat Lunn of Michigan State University, for upper-level Spanish students. He has just signed a contract with Georgetown University Press for a second edition.

Lunsford’s latest publication comes just three months before he plans to retire from the university after a distinguished career in which he twice served as department chair and, in 2001, was recognized with Elon’s Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching. Lunsford came to Elon in 1981.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University with a junior year abroad at the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru. He later earned a master’s degree from Middlebury College in Madrid, Spain, and a doctorate in Spanish from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Eric Townsend,
3/29/2011 9:34 AM