False friends in Medical English by Jonathan McFarland


False friends (faux amis) are pairs of words that look or sound the same in two languages, but have different meanings. One kind of false friends can occur when two speakers speak different varieties of the same language. Speakers of British English and American English sometimes have this problem. George Bernard Shaw commented: “England and United States are two countries divided by a common language”. But today we are going to talk about false friends between different languages, like ENGLISH and SPANISH.

If you have caught a cold and go to a Chemist and ask for something for your constipation you will be given a laxative.

 CONSTIPATED = ESTREÑIDO: “I am constipated”
CONSTIPADO = COLD: “I have catch a cold”

“The actual President of Spain is Rajoy”.” Sorry, I think you mean present”.

ACTUAL = REAL. “This is the actual case”.                                           ACTUAL = PRESENT: “The present President of Spain is Rajoy”.

The Doctor assisted the Congress on AIDS. The nurse attended the patient.

ASSIST = ATENDER: “The nurse assisted the patient”. ASISTIR = ATTEND: “The Doctor attended the Congress on AIDS”.

“Can you pass me the carpet please?” “It is under your feet. Don’t you mean the folder?”

CARPET = ALFOMBRA: “The carpet is under your feet”. CARPETA = FOLDER: “Can you pass me the folder please?”

“You look very embarrassed.” “No, I am 8 months pregnant.”

EMBARRASSED = AVERGONZADA: “I am very embarrassed”.

EMBARAZADA = PREGNANT: “I am 8 months pregnant”.

“Was the operation an exit?”. “The operation went very well; it was a great success.”

EXIT = SALIDA: “The exit is over there”.
ÉXITO = SUCCESS: “Was the operation a success?”

“You look very sane.” “I hope so! I hope I don’t need to visit the psychiatry department. I feel healthy.”

SANE = CUERDO, EN SU SANO JUICIO: “He is sane, he doesn’t need to go to the psychiatrist.
SANO = HEALTHY: “ I feel very healthy”

An Introduction to Medical English


I have been working in the field of Medical English for the last decade, and have decided to put down some of my ideas on this blog, and to open it up to more people and more ideas; in other words start a community dedicated to Medical English in all its different forms and versions. The field of English for Medicine is an enormous one, but one that is of critical importance in this day and age.

I have dedicated the last decade of my life to helping doctors and health professionals on the island of Mallorca to improving their English. It has always seemed to me that the level of medicine practiced here is of a very high level, but that the lack of English is a great barrier. The aim of this blog is to break down this barrier, and also to export my ideas onto a broader stage.

I am interested in the whole field of Medical English, but particularly on the following: communication in medicine (between doctor and patient, doctor and doctor); medical writing, medical terminology, medical research, medical training and medical humanities. Currently I have two hobby-horses, the training of residents, and Clinical sessions in English in a non-English setting.

I am not medically trained but am trained as a teacher with a late interest in medicine. However, I believe that is an advantage as I can look into medicine as an outsider, albeit an outsider with a strong medical sensibility.

Likewise I think that my audience will be as eclectic, as I am aiming this blog not only at Medical professionals wishing to improve their English (this is not another blog helping you learn English, although this is obviously one of its aims), but at researchers, health librarians, teachers, linguists, medical educators, and in fact to all those who have an interest in health/wellness and language. So I am aiming at breadth; in audience and ideas.

I aim to make regular posts, but also want to have guest contributors from different fields, thus anyone is welcome to contribute. So if you wish to contribute please get in touch with me.

The content of the blog will be very varied, ranging from useful language in the Doctor to patient interview, false friends, how to give a presentation, the use of the passive in writing articles, phrasal verbs in health, and I will also link to articles that I have found interesting, or webpages of interest. I will also keep you informed of my recent work, and other things which may be of interest.

So please enjoy this new blog and do not forget to contact me if you wish to send a post, tell your friends about it and let us begin to make this an obligatory port of call for all those interested in the field of Medical English.

Jonathan