Volume 8 Number 1
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Tracy Marvin, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Katz Wilner, L., & Feinstein-Whittaker, M. (2010). Medically speaking Idioms: Idioms and American slang. Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking.

Medically Speaking Idioms is the second of a trilogy of books designed to teach English idioms to nonnative English speakers in the medical field. The first book in the trilogy, Medically Speaking: Accent Modification for the Medical Profession, introduced 101 idioms used in the healthcare profession. The book under review, Medically Speaking: Idioms, offers practice of the 101 idioms previously mentioned. The third book, Medically Speaking RULES, also serves as a companion piece to Medically Speaking and reinforces the pronunciation and intonation patterns of vocabulary in the healthcare setting.

Medically Speaking Idioms is intended for advanced English language learners working in the healthcare profession who can communicate in English but lack a knowledge of often-used idioms and slang. This gap in their knowledge may cause them to misunderstand work colleagues or patients under their care. This gap in knowledge could lead to English learners feeling like outsiders or could jeopardize the safety of their patients. Medically Speaking Idioms strives to remedy that situation by providing idioms and slang in context.

Medically Speaking Idioms begins with a pretest that consists of 25 multiple-choice questions that show a sentence with the idiom underlined and four answer choices that describe the meaning of the idiom. The results of the pretest will show which idioms learners are unfamiliar with.

The next nine units then show the 101 idioms in more detail. Each unit starts with a chart of 9 to 12 idioms. Students then place a check in the chart to indicate if they “know this idiom,” “not sure,” or “don’t know this idiom.” This chart is an excellent way to check students’ knowledge before they start the unit and can help students to know what to focus on and which units to possibly skip. Then, there is a list of the idioms for that unit with a definition and a sentence that shows the idiom in context. Each unit also contains two to four dialogues with the idioms in context, plus 6 to 44 extra slang expressions with an asterisk next to each and the definition below the dialogue. Students can see these dialogues in written form and hear them spoken by male and female voices on the accompanying CD. On the page following each complete dialogue is the dialogue with blanks where the idioms and slang had once been. The introduction to the book indicates that the students are to fill in the blanks with the meaning of the slang and idioms in their own words.

Each unit then ends with a quiz that may ask the students to match the idioms to a definition, write five original sentences using the idioms in that unit, rewrite the idioms in their own words, or group idioms into similar categories (such as emotions). The end of the unit has a key to the quiz and a repeat of the “know this idiom,” “not sure,” or “don’t know this idiom” chart.

English language learners will benefit from seeing the definitions of the idioms and slang in each chapter. In addition, they will have a better idea of the use of the idioms and slang by seeing them presented in dialogues. However, there are no repeats of idioms and slang in the nine units. The new idioms and slang are shown just once in a dialogue and a definition is provided. For example, in one six-line dialogue, 13 idioms and slang expressions were presented. Though this may be enough context to understand the meaning of the idiom or slang, is it really enough context for an English language learner to acquire the ability to use these idioms and slang in casual conversation? If students also use the other books in the series related to these idioms, the repetition may be sufficient for them to properly use these 101 idioms. As a stand-alone book, though, it does not provide enough context for students to learn how to actually use these idioms.

The book ends with a final test that has the same sentences as the pretest but without the multiple-choice answers. Students must write the definitions of the idioms in their own words. The extra slang that was presented in each chapter is never tested in the quizzes, pretest, or final test. It would be up to students to test themselves on the approximately 235 additional slang expressions.

After the final test are two additional chapters. “More Idiom Activities” has some review of the idioms in the book. Three paragraphs are shown with the idioms in boldface and below it is the same paragraph with blanks where the students are expected to write the idioms in their own words. “Even More Idioms” introduces 31 new idioms. This will help students who are eager to learn even more idioms.

This book is highly recommended for advanced English learners who are hoping to learn idioms to succeed in the medical profession. It will help students to learn definitions and to read and hear the idioms in the context of dialogues. Students can review usage of the idioms by completing the “More Idiom Activities” chapter at the end of the book. If English language learners were to use this as a stand-alone book, they could benefit from the help of a teacher who could add more context to the dialogues. Teachers could do this by adding extra sentences to the dialogues to clarify the meaning of the idioms and slang. Plus, they could mention the relationship between the speakers, such as a doctor speaking to a patient. In addition, the use of comprehension questions following each dialogue might help to clarify whether or not the student understands the exact meaning of the idiom.

Tracy Marvin, tmarvin2@illinois.edu

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