Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 2, 2013

Raceland students combine Spanish studies with CPR

Mike James
The Independent

RACELAND — Some students at Raceland-Worthington High School learned three key questions they may need to ask if they ever are faced with providing emergency first aid.

The questions are:

¿Estas bien?

¿Cuando paso?

¿Que problemos medicos tienes?

The students, all enrolled in upper-level Spanish, were practicing CPR Thursday as part of a study unit to learn the Spanish equivalents of English medical terms and phrases.

Teacher Zenaida Smith assigned the unit to motivate her students to continue foreign language study. Some of her students are planning careers in the health industry, and learning the lingo is just the sort of real-world application to show them studying Spanish has concrete benefits.

The CPR instruction was courtesy of Marty Johnson, a paramedic and emergency medical services coordinator for the Kentucky Fire Commission. Johnson coordinates fire rescue training, and his son Novan is one of Smith’s students.

It was Johnson who prioritized the questions, which in English mean, more or less, are you O.K., when did the problem start and what sort of medical problems have you had in the past.

Johnson brought training dummies and other materials to class so all 20 students could practice. The students all are motivated and already proficient in Spanish, so the most difficult element of the instruction was the chest compression, which proved surprisingly strenuous for the teenagers.

The instruction was far more than a classroom exercise; Johnson said once they’d completed it the students would be certified as competent to administer emergency CPR.

Smith hopes they also will see practical reasons for continuing to study Spanish. That is important, because upon completion of her upper-level classes, they will have surpassed foreign language requirements at many colleges and universities, she said.

Knowing medical terms and how to communicate with patients is a clear benefit, said Olivia Strehle, a senior who plans to study psychology in college. “I feel it would be very helpful if I’m in an area with many Spanish-speaking people,” she said.

The unit also made study more interesting because it went beyond rote memorization. “These are real-world things you’re going to need to know,” she said.

Johnson, who took Spanish in school and retains a rudimentary amount of vocabulary, said the Spanish-speaking community is extensive enough that emergency workers in the region commonly encounter patients or their families who don’t speak English.

Knowing their language can save lives because in emergency care, time is precious. Minutes spent puzzling over the meaning of words or sending for an interpreter can mean the difference between life and death.

Smith, a native of Panama for whom Spanish is her native language, receives calls from time to time, including in the middle of the night, requesting her services to interpret in such situations.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com.

 or (606) 326-2652.