Step 2 of the USMLE exam has two components, clinical knowledge (CK) and clinical skills (CS), and language is an important part of CS. That is because you will have 15-minute “encounters” with patients and be expected to communicate with those patients while being observed. The fluency used will have to be much more than a functional grasp of English in order to fully understand, diagnose, and establish a relationship with the patient. Encounters may be face-to-face or over the telephone, in which case pronunciation and fluency are even more critical.
The scoring of USMLE Step 2 CS is further broken up into Communication and Interpersonal Skills (CIS), Spoken English Proficiency (SEP) and Integrated Clinical Encounter (ICE). This means that not only must a physician be able to speak clearly and professionally, he or she must also be emotionally supportive and speak at a level that is understandable to the patient.
True English fluency is difficult for those who haven’t spent enough time conversing with those for whom English is their native tongue. Like most languages, there are nuances to learn that can only be appreciated when immersed in the language. The most-dedicated medical student can memorize all the medical terms in the text books, but he or she won’t be able to communicate with a patient without understanding common vernacular.
There are many methods to learning English, and often, living in an English-speaking country for a while is the best one. However, there are other ways to speed up the process that are valid and make learning American lingo an easier quest.
10 Non-traditional Ways to Learn Common American English
- Watch television
The TV is an excellent way to listen to common English, and if your language skills are very rough, subtitles can help with comprehension and pronunciation. Stick to entertainment television, not the news, or you won’t get the lower-level diction required for fluency.
- Watch YouTube
If you watch television, you’ll definitely get some exposure to slang, but YouTube allows you to see real people doing ordinary things. Watch children’s videos, how-to videos, and viral videos to get a variety of voices and dialects.
- Read magazines
Don’t restrict yourself to books when you are reading, as magazines offer fun language opportunities and a different format that enhances the variety of your language knowledge. It’s all about variety, and the more variety you get in your language use, the more complete your language fluency will be.
- Listen to music
Music is a fun way to learn any language, and it is a great way to work on pronunciation. This makes any drive time more productive because you can sing to the music in the car.
- Go out for coffee
Many foreigners have a tendency to hang out with people from their home country or other foreigners because of the shared situation. As a result, they diminish their exposure to native speakers. Going to a coffee shop, even with fellow foreigners, will expose you to ambient native language.
- Sit in lobbies
Like going to a coffee shop, sitting in lobbies is an excellent way to eavesdrop and hear normal conversations. This will help with your listening skills and also teach social norms. One-on-one conversation is difficult to observe unless you are in a public place like this.
- Ask questions
If you don’t understand, make sure to ask. It may seem cumbersome at first, but asking questions will catapult your learning. It also helps people to understand that you are trying to speak fluently.
- Socialize with Americans
Foreigners sometimes socially isolate themselves from Americans because they don’t speak well enough to engage in casual discussion. This isolation only furthers the problem, so get out there!
- Don’t be shy
Plenty of people who speak English perfectly are shy, and changing that is nearly impossible. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot force yourself to communicate more. Chit chat with the person at the cash register, and say hello to people passing by. You may make some mistakes, but surviving those mistakes will make you more confident.
Practice all of the time. Give up your own native language for a day. Immerse yourself in everything that will give you more practice. If language is your hurdle for USMLE Step 2, conquer it.
Learning proper English is difficult, but learning common English with all of its idiosyncrasies and colloquialisms can take some time. The only way you can ensure that you have enough fluency to effectively communicate with patients is to use it often. As you can see from these tips, it is all about exposure and usage, and the more you surround yourself with the English language, the more natural it will feel to hear and speak it. When you get to the clinical skills portion of your USMLE exam, language will no longer be a problem.