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EFL and ESL Language Barriers in Nursing School

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

What is Medical Terminology? It is used to specifically label the various components of the human body, conditions, processes, disease, medical procedures, and pharmacological mechanisms. English as First Language (EFL) and English as Second Language (ESL) students both face deliberate language barriers in the nursing healthcare profession. You may be thinking, "Is there a such thing as EFL?" Well, it is! We have commonly heard that ESL students have translation challenges as it relates to English language. These particular students are faced with not only translating words to English, but then to Greek and Latin terms. Students that are EFL also face these same challenges except they have difficulty translating from English to Greek and Latin language terms.

EFL and ESL students also face complex language barriers in deciphering medical terminology while reading and comprehending didactic and clinical material in nursing school.

Although I had been teaching for about eight years at the time, it was not until I became a nurse tutor of a pre-licensure nursing

program that I realized that all nursing student have translation challenges when it came to comprehension and understanding didactic and clinical data in nursing school. While working with students, I have heard things like, "If I only knew how to breakdown that word" or "If I only knew what that word meant" that they would have been able to get a question correct on an assessment or knew what was going on while reading a patient's chart. The truth is, most nursing programs do not require nursing students to take a medical terminology course prior to or during nursing school. With an already intense program, this creates an unnecessary increased amount of anxiety as nursing students move through a rigorous nursing program.

What can be done?

Of course, implementing a medical terminology course would be the easiest route to go, right? It would provide students with an opportunity to douse themselves in a structured curriculum learning word parts, combining vowels, prefixes, suffixes, and Greek and Latin terms. I have newly implemented something of this nature in a Fundamentals course that covered about 20 weeks of medical terminology content as well as in-depth quizzes. I found this to be extremely effective as students not only earned grades for their knowledge, but they also went on to future courses understanding the medical language and interpreting interchangeable word parts. Nursing pr

ofessors were able to teach while students interpreted words readily and they took this with them throughout the program and into practice.

Additionally, schools of nursing can make this a requirement as a prerequisite prior to being accepted into a nursing program. This way, students can focus on nursing knowledge and be ready to read, explore, and comprehend medical language.

What else? There are plenty of online resources across various platforms

that can show students how to break down medical terms and understand word parts. Moreover, students can assess their knowledge through online quizzing and gaming. I will post a few resources below in case you need a reliable and excellent resource. If you have specific questions about medical terminology and how Impact Nursing Academy can assist you, please contact us at

Independent online resources:

Written by: Arnitra Lewis-Grant, MSN/ED, RN

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