by J. A. Buxton
My experience learning a new language
Write a story or poem about your efforts in learning a new language
Over the years I’d tried to learn various languages including ASL or American Sign Language. Having failed at all of them, I doubted I’d do well in the vocational college where I wanted to learn medical transcription. Right at the beginning of the nine-month course, we had classes in medical terminology. If you don’t think learning medical terms is like learning a new language, this intense class would change your mind.
The first week our teacher started us out teaching us prefix root words like the ones in the title of this piece. For your edification, I will tell you them. Hystero is the uterus, salpingo means the uterine tubes, and finally oopho is the funny sounding word for ovaries. So, the three prefix word roots combined are hysterosalpingo-oopho with the required hyphen between the ending O and beginning O. As you can see, this word many women know is not complete since it needs a suffix.
The teacher then went on with the various suffix root words. Still using the title word, we learned ectomy means excision. So now you know what that mouthful word means, an excision of the uterus, uterine tubes and ovaries. Enough of that. Can you tell from this one word how learning often complex medical terms is like learning a new language?
In our small class of about 15, there was only one man. We had fun when we came across the word orchid, and some teased him about giving him an orchidectomy. You can trust me that the prefix of orchid in this case does not mean a flower. If you are curious, just Google on that word.
Every evening after a full day of class, I’d save the root words along with their spelling we’d covered that day onto a tape. After that, I’d sit out in my side yard with the small tape recorder and practice the spelling and meaning over and over. I’d even take the tape recorder with me every time I drove some place and keep practicing.
All this paid off that first Friday when our teacher surprised us with what would be a weekly test. I only got one word wrong, but unfortunately three of my classmates did extremely poorly. We sat together in class, and one of these ladies came up with an idea after seeing my test score.
Beginning the following Monday after class, the four of us sat outside in the school’s patio and studied together. This was when my desire to teach, or maybe just my tendency to bossiness, came to the forefront. I would drill these new friends with what we were taught that day. These women quickly gave me the nickname of “Spell it,” since that was the common refrain they heard. The following Friday, we were all delighted when they brought their grades up with a couple even matching my perfect score. From that week on, we continued our studying together.
After two exhausting semesters in medical terminology classes, we moved on to classes in anatomy where we learned the various functions of the body. The four of us continued our study group, and I became once again a tyrant teacher. I’d ask them to name parts of systems like the digestive in order from top to bottom. To make sure they really knew the systems, I’d often have them name the parts going from the bottom up to the top. From studying anatomy this way, I earned another nickname. Since I’m a lady, I’m sure SM and SM would rather I not mention what that nickname was.
Eventually, the others in our study group went into classes to learn back office procedures. Having mastered the basic medical terminology language need to become a medical transcriptionist, I began the actual practice of listening to tapes of doctors dictating medical procedures and transcribing them into a computer. There was no spell checker on the school computers, and at that time I didn’t own my own computer. The strict teacher in this class insisted on perfection in both what the doctors said and how to spell the medical terms.
To compound the stress of this class, I was going through menopause and having hot flashes as I typed. Somehow I got through the dictations by printing off what I’d transcribed, taking the printed reports home, and checking every single medical word in my huge Dorland’s Medical Dictionary.
After finishing the required dictations ahead of schedule, my teacher let me have extra tapes for more practice. One was of about six doctors with various accents dictating operations. These were a challenge, but my favorite was a long one of an autopsy. It was about a woman who drowned in the ocean and was partially eaten by crabs. Okay, I know that sounds gross, but it really was fascinating to hear the doctor dictate an actual autopsy.
After nine months of grueling study, I was ready to face the world as a newbie medical transcriptionist. After reading about a job opening for an experienced MT at the local community hospital, I decided “What the heck?” and went for an interview. First I was seated at a computer, given a tape to transcribe, and left alone with just that tape and my favorite book at that time, Dorland’s Medical Dictionary. There were three short dictations on the tape, so easy to transcribe I hardly believed this was the actual test for the job.
Although at least a year’s experience was required, the people who interviewed me after the test were willing to give me a try and hired me. At the age of 50, with a new language swirling around in my brain, I began this new career and stayed with it until I retired 10 years later.
If people tell you that you’re too old to learn a new language, thumb your nose and have fun proving them wrong. If it’s a man, gently smile and ask him if he’d like an orchidectomy.
Microsoft Word count = 1,000
"The Writer's Cramp" daily entry for 08/04/2013