Finessing communication skills in two languages

Externship Project

One of the things that I mentioned in my original post about doing my externship in Eastern Ontario close to the Quebec border was that I was worried about the French language barrier. My mother (an optometrist) originally practiced in Hawkesbury her first year out of school and told me that one-third of the population speaks English, one-third speaks French and English (but would prefer to speak French) and one-third speaks ONLY French. On the files at the Hawkesbury Animal Hospital (HAH) we usually mark in the file which language the clients prefer so that we can better communicate with them. At the Ontario Veterinary College we have three years' worth of communication classes (Art of Veterinary Medicine) but they’re all in English! 

One of the things that I have been doing as part of my externship at HAH is starting appointments. I enter the room and introduce myself as a fourth year student then proceed to collect a history and perform a physical exam on the pet. Before I go into the exam room I normally look at the info sheet and check what the language preference is. If they ONLY speak French I normally wait for one of the French speaking veterinarians to be available and go in with them. There are many words I do know in French, but there are also many English words that can be spoken with a French accent to make a ‘French word’. A couple of these include: vacuum, check(e) and lunch. Other words sound similar but mean very very different things; such as colonne, which in French means spine, but sounds like ‘colon’ to me (as in the large intestine). Other English words have two French words such as nail; ongle is the regular translation, but in the vet clinic we use the word ‘griffe for which the literal translation is claw. 

While my French is definitely a work in progress I do make an effort to speak French to the one-third of the clients who prefer it, but when they hear my terrible accent they normally take pity on me and change to English. I will continue to try, and when I say the word ‘pet’ hopefully they think of their animal not a fart (the French word is pet coincidentally)!!