What do I do if I can't speak Spanish here in America?

I work in a hospital in the middle of Texas. Everyday there are patients that come who can’t understand anything other than Spanish. I’ve learned a few commands and sentences to get my point across but I really don’t understand too much.

Some people (mostly the women) take blatant offense at my inability to speak in their language. Some (mostly the guys) seem amused with my attempts to speak spanish.

It’s fustrating because I’m trying to help them, but how should I react to their rudeness?


  1. You know its hard because people forget that they are in a country where they need to know some English to communicate with majority of the people. At least you do not want to be rude back to them. I think you should see if someone could teach how to say "I am trying to help you, I don’t speak much Spanish please be patient with me." Also smile at them when they are rude to you. Its hard to be rude to someone who is smiling kindly at you.
    And of course see if you can take some Spanish classes, see if the hospital you work at has a program for people to learn Spanish or will pay for your classes. Or try getting Spanish for Dummies or 10 minutes of Spanish a day books, they are easy to learn from. The good thing about learning a language where you are working is that you will immediately be able to use it. So you will be able to pick it up quicker.
    Good luck to you.

  2. You should be the one who is offended that they don’t speak ENGLISH! I am hispanic so it’s not racist. All of my family learned English when they came here 3-4 generations ago. I would like to learn spanish also but it shouldnt be a requirement like some people think it should.

    Also, I hate having to "dial 1 for English", shouldnt it just be an automatic!?

  3. Take a Spanish class or buy some software and try and learn it on your own, it’s part of your job, they may even pay for it.

    And how do you know they are offended if you can’t understand them?

    Daisy Indigo
  4. Spanish isn’t really that hard to learn once you start getting into it. Go to any local bookstore in your area like Borders, or Barnes&Noble and they will carry alot of books, tapes, CD’s and software in the language. I know that Borders especially has lots of good spanish stuff for beginners and lots of neat stuff too! So please give it a try and not give up! Good Luck!!!!!!!!

    Cactus flower
  5. It IS frustrating, isn’t it? I once worked at a bank in a community with a large number of Hispanics. Filling out a loan application for one was very frustrating because of the language barrier. Finally, one of them yelled at me: "Someone in your position should speak Spanish!" I got mad and said, "Yeah? Well, if you want pesos, we’ll talk Spanish. You want dollars, we talk English!!" He was speechless, and then he started laughing — good thing, because he would have probably gotten me fired! And then we got along fine.

    If they want someone to speak to them in Spanish, then they probably need to go back to a Mexican hospital, no? It’s especially annoying, since so many of them are here illegally, and they are basically getting free medical care, anyway.

    Just be professional, and ignore their comments. Sick people aren’t know for their sweet dispositions, anyway. 🙂

  6. If you need to communicate with these people to do your job effectively, you should tyr to learn some more Spanish. They are probably frustrated at their own communication limitations, not to mention the uneasiness of being in a hospital. You have to treat their rudeness with tolerance and kindness.

  7. I suggest you just do what you would normally do, in English. I’m sure they’re used to it. I live in China, and there’s nothing more frustrating than someone stumbling through English when I’m trying to get something done. I’m used to getting things done without saying anything, and when someone stalls by trying to speak English or trying to communicate with hand gestures it just ends up taking more time.

    My point is that they’re probably more used to doing things in English (or without speaking at all) than you are doing things in broken Spanish.

    I’m not sure how practical this approach is though, if you’re moving patients from one room to another it might be, but if you’re examining someone I guess you’ll have to ask them questions…

    If you decide to learn Spanish, it shouldn’t be hard given your environment. Try something simple, like https://www.spanishpod101.com, and you’ll be getting the hang of it in no time.


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