Medical Vocabulary for ESL

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Medical vocabulary for ESL students should focus on teaching some of the basics. Medical vocabulary is a specialized field, and there are plenty of very complex medical terms that doctor’s use. In fact, entire dictionaries are devoted to the field of medical vocabulary and to understanding what the names of diseases, medicines and conditions mean. However, most of these complex medical words are not necessary when teaching medical vocabulary to ESL students. Instead, focus on fundamental medical concepts that a person new to America may need to know.

Medical Vocabulary Words For ESL Students

Whether you are a teacher or an ESL student, learning medical vocabulary involves selecting a list of appropriate vocabulary words and learning their definitions. Medical vocabulary can be some of the most important words an ESL student needs to learn. Without medical vocabulary, it could be difficult or impossible for a non-English speaker to get the help he or she needs in the event of a medical emergency.

Therefore, any list of medical vocabulary for ESL students should contain the types of information a person would need if they were facing a real life medical situation. These words include:


Medical People

  • Doctor: A professional who has graduated from medical school and passed exams to become a physician. Doctors diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Physician: Another word for a doctor
  • Nurse: Nurses also provide care, but are not qualified to diagnose illness or disease. They provide supportive care to patients who are treated by doctors.
  • Surgeon: A type of doctor who performs surgery or operations

Medical Places

  • Hospital: A location where you go to get medical care.
  • Emergency Room: The part of the hospital where you go in the event of an emergency, or a condition that needs immediate medical attention
  • Intensive Care Unit: The part of the hospital where you are admitted to stay if you need continuous monitoring or continuous care.
  • Pharmacy: A place where you go to get prescriptions filled (also called a "Drug Store"

Medical Feelings

  • Pain: A feeling of intensive discomfort
  • Hurt: Similar to pain, hurts describes an unpleasant sensation

Medical Treatments

  • Prescription: A signed piece of paper from the doctor telling you (and the pharmacy) what drugs are appropriate for treatment
  • Shots: Doses of medicine or vaccines administered by a needle
  • Exam: A procedure in which the doctor evaluates your condition
  • Cast: Something you wear if you have a broken bone, which allows the bone to set
  • Diagnosis: Your doctor’s determination regarding your medical state

Medical Conditions

  • Headache: A sore head
  • Stomach Ache: A store stomach
  • Flu: A viral condition in which you may have an upset stomach or cold-like symptoms
  • Sore Throat: Pain in the throat
  • Bone Fracture: A situation in which one of your bones has broken
  • Disease: A type of illness
  • Illness: A type of sickness

Teaching ESL Medical Vocabulary

Teaching ESL medical vocabulary can be difficult. Students need to understand the meaning of words that may be hard to illustrate, such as an exam. Acting out scenarios of visits to a doctor’s office can be helpful in teaching medical vocabulary to ESL students.

It can also be useful to consult online resources. For example, the following websites contain ESL vocabulary quizzes and lists:

  • Learn English Feel Good offers a “Doctor’s Office” quiz featuring words you’ll commonly encounter in a doctor’s office
  • Hospital English contains a list of "English for the Medical Professional." You can click on a word to hear the word, so you’ll be able to learn how to pronounce it properly.
  • Here at YourDictionasry you can review an article on ESL and Dental Vocabulary words, along with some links to other sites that offer medical dictionaries online for ESL students.
  • ESL Printables offers "Match and Find" worksheets related to medical vocabulary
  • The Business English site features "ESL for Pharmacy"