10 Signs that your patient isn’t really following your Spanish

Do you ever wonder if your patient is actually following you and what your saying as you’re speaking Spanish to them?

If you haven’t thought about it before, it’s worth considering that maybe everything you’re intending to say isn’t getting through.

Here are some signs that a native speaker might not be understanding your use of their language:

  1. Confused Expression: They might look puzzled or confused while you’re speaking.
  2. Minimal Response: They give short, vague, or unrelated responses to what you’re saying.
  3. Repetition: They ask you to repeat yourself multiple times.
  4. Clarification Requests: They frequently ask you to clarify what you mean or to explain a word or phrase.
  5. Body Language: Their body language, such as furrowed brows or leaning forward, might indicate they’re trying hard to understand.
  6. Change in Conversation Topic: They abruptly change the topic of conversation, possibly because they’re not following your current topic.
  7. Slow or Overly Enunciated Speech: They may start speaking slowly or over-enunciate words, assuming you might not be understanding them.
  8. Use of Simple Language: They switch to simpler language or gestures to try to convey their message.
  9. Blank Stare: They give you a blank stare, which can indicate confusion or lack of comprehension.
  10. Polite Nodding or Smiling: They nod or smile politely without really understanding what you’re saying.

If you notice these signs, it’s a good idea to check in with the person to see if they’re following along or if there’s something you can do to improve communication.

While your patient might be hesitant to tell you they don’t understand what you’re saying, there are some easy tactics you can employ to give you confidence they are “with you” in what you’re saying. For example:

  • You could try asking them to repeat back to you what they understand you’re saying to them
  • You could try asking them to think out loud with you about how x, y or z situation (condition, treatment, lifestyle change, etc) will impact other areas of their life.

At the end of the day, we all have our limits when using a 2nd or 3rd language. Whether those limits are the ability to clearly explain something in a manner that connects to the patient or our own ability to comprehend what someone is saying in their altered state, with their unfamiliar accent, or their use of unknown regionalisms; the important posture that we must adopt is to be quick to ask for language help when we notice some of the above signs signifying a breakdown in patient communication.

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