Better English for medical – and other – students and professionals

07.14.2010

in TOEFL, Tools & Techniques

When you use what you learned in your first language to make English more comprehensible, or understandable, you improve your ability to acquire more English. Stanford University just made that easier for medical students and professionals. And even if you’re not in medicine, you can learn how to use what you already know in your area of study or work to improve your English.

The most important thing an English learner can know is this – when you read or listen to interesting, understandable English, you acquire, or pick up more English. In other words, if you want your English to improve, find things that you enjoy and are easy to understand and do as much reading and listening as you can.

One very good way to make English understandable is to take advantage of what you learned in your first language. This is what Adrian, a Brazilian law professor, did when he decided to read John Grisham’s novels about lawyers and law firms. Adrian tells me that his knowledge of law helped him understand the English in Grisham’s novels and acquire more English.

A few days ago, on the Open Culture web site, I discovered an excellent way for medical students and professionals to do the same thing Adrian did. And I have some suggestions for those of you who want to do something similar but come from other academic backgrounds.

Stanford Mini Med School

The Stanford Mini Med School is a series of classes that introduce students to human biology, health and disease, and changes in medical research and healthcare. It includes video lectures by more than 30 distinguished faculty, scientists, and doctors from Stanford’s medical school.

You can take the classes for credit from Stanford’s School of Continuing studies, but you don’t have to. You can listen to all the lectures – free – on iTunes U or YouTube. And you can order the textbook, Body: the Complete Human, and do the reading assignments. This popular text is published by National Geographic and is filled with clear explanations and photographs.

Using the Stanford Mini Med School to improve your English

The Mini Med School is divided into three courses:

Course 1: The Dynamics of Human Health

Course 2: Medicine, Human Health, and the Frontiers of Science

Course 3: Transforming Our Understanding of Human Health and Disease

  • List of lectures and reading assignments will be available later
  • Lecture videos (partial) on iTunes U

Here are my suggestion for using the Stanford Mini Med School to improve your English:

  • Begin with lectures that cover topics you are familiar with.
  • Begin with introductory topics and build toward advanced topics. Be patient!

Remember, the strategy is to use medical content you are already familiar with to scaffold, or support, your understanding of English.

But what if I’m not a medical student or professional?

I’m looking around to see if there are similar content packages in other academic areas. But you don’t need to wait if you’re willing to do a little work. Here are three good sources for academic content from a large number of outstanding universities:

Follow the same instructions I gave earier:

  • Find subjects and lectures that cover topics you’re familiar with.
  • Begin with introductory topics and build toward advanced topics. Be patient!

Remember – the strategy is to use academic content you’re already familiar with to scaffold, or support, your understanding of English. As you listen and read and your English improves, you’ll be able to move up to more difficult material.

Warren Ediger

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