Reading For Medical Purposes: Medical Knowledge And English Language Proficiency


avatar Saeed Zarein-Dolab 1 , *

1 Assistant Professor of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Shaheed Beheshti UMSHS.

How to Cite: Zarein-Dolab S. Reading For Medical Purposes: Medical Knowledge And English Language Proficiency. J Med Edu. 2001;1(2):e104941. doi: 10.22037/jme.v1i2.964.


Journal of Medical Education: 1 (2); e104941
Published Online: April 18, 2009
Article Type: Research Article
Received: April 18, 2009
Accepted: April 18, 2009


Purpose  The  present  study seeks  to explore the effects of general language proficiency  text readability, and medical knowledge  on  comprehending medical texts.Material and Method  : medical students in the second year of their study were randomly  selected  from  the  English language classes. They answered 100 multiple-choice questions on grammar and vocabulary  to  establish  the  level  of language proficiency.    Two texts were selected as content familiar (from medical language) and unfamiliar (from general language) based on the opinions of the lecturers of the university and the students enrolled  in the  fourth  year  of their  study. The  students  themselves   also  measured the  familiarity  of  the  texts.    The  students read  the texts  and  wrote  a recall  in their first language.The texts were analysed based on Meyer's rhetorical structures. All the propositions were hierarchically  organised and were used as the coding templates. The propositions,  which were in the recall, were cross-checked with the templates. Text readability  was  measured  using  Fry's graph.While both texts were at the same level of text  readability,  the  familiar  medical  text was  better  comprehended regardless  of the  level of  language  ability.  Conversely, even those with high language proficiency had difficulties in comprehending the unfamiliar text.Conclusion Texts related  to the students' area of study are more comprehensible for both   groups   of   low   and   high   level   of language    ability. When         it comes   to selecting  texts  for  language   classes,  the readability  formulas  may  not  indicate  the level of the difficulty of a reading text.  Prior knowledge  of medicine is a better indicator for  assessing   the  comprehensibility  of  a text  for  the  students   of  medicine.   It  is suggested   that   the   focus           in   university language  classes  should  be  on  students' area  of   concern. The criteria  for   the selection  of  texts  for  university  languageclasses and consequently the exam questions should be related to students' prior knowledge, in our case medicine. Texts not related to the students' area of study may disadvantage all students regardless of their language ability Reading for medical purposes.


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