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Common Spanish Phrases Every OT Should Know

Written by Erika Del Pozo, Published on December 4, 2018

Hola! Does learning a new language overwhelm you? Does the thought of speaking Spanish in a clinical setting raise your BP? Well, you're in luck! Your friendly neighborhood Cubana OT is here to teach you Spanish 101 and class is in session! I require una manzana (apple) as a gift from each and every one of you. Just in case you’re wondering, Vick’s VapoRub cures every illness known to man. And yes, I basically survived solely on flan, black beans, and re-runs of ¿Qué Pasa, USA? as a child. Vámonos (let’s go)!

Although we have the handy-dandy Google Translate app on our phones and most large healthcare systems have a language phone line translator service to help you, it is still helpful to learn the basics of therapeutic spanish phrases. If nothing else, it shows that you are trying, which in itself can help build a good rapport with your patients. Communication in healthcare is everything, and we know that establishing a solid rapport can ensure greater success for our clients.

While this article won't make you as fluent as a native speaker, you can at least make sure you’re not as embarrassing as my husband trying to talk to my Cuban abuelo (Just smile and nod, Mike). Let’s go over the top ten basic therapeutic Spanish phrases you need to know so you can seem super smart and worldly. Oh, and to help your patients get better.

NOTE: I want to point out that the following examples are given using the formal usted (you) and not the informal. You would use tú to informally address a friend.

  • Hola, me llamo Erika. Cómo está?
    • Hello, I am called (insert your name here). How are you?
    • You can also say ‘Mi nombre es Erika’ (literal translation is ‘my name is’). But ‘me llamo Erika’ is shorter and it’s perfectly acceptable and common to address yourself that way.
  • Cómo se llama usted?
    • What is your name?
  • Mucho gusto.
    • Pleased to meet you.
  • Yo soy (la or el) terapeuta ocupacional.
    • I am the occupational therapist.
  • Yo trabajo con usted para que pueda hacer sus actividades diarias.
    • I work with you so that you can complete your everyday activities.
  • Usted tiene dolor? Dónde se siente el dolor? (Bonus: Enseñeme donde se duele)
    • Do you feel pain? Where do you feel pain? (Bonus: Show me where you feel pain).
  • Párese / Levántese (either one) / Siéntese
    • Stand up / sit down
  • Haga eso como yo por favor
    • Please do this like me.
  • Arriba / abajo / adentro / afuera
    • Up / down / inside / outside
    • For example, when directing your patient to move their limbs, you can simply say arriba or abajo. You could use adentro or afuera to refer to in and out. For example, during any functional exercises or activities.
  • Izquierda / derecha
    • left / right
  • Mejor? Peor? Igual?
    • Better? Worse? Same?
  • Está cansado/cansada?
    • Are you tired (masculine or feminine)
  • Fuerte / débil
    • Strong / weak
  • Aguántelo / Suéltelo/ Relájese
    • Hold it / let it go/ relax
  • Empuje / Hale
    • Push / pull
  • Usted puede ____ : vestirse? comer? ir al baño? caminar? manejar el carro?
    • Can you dress yourself? Eat? Go to the bathroom? Walk? Drive a car?
  • Vamos a caminar.
    • Let’s go walk.
  • Necesita ayuda?
    • Do you need help?
  • Ropa, baño, comida
    • Clothes, bathroom, food

Don’t pressure yourself to memorize everything in one shot. Most often than not, people will be forgiving if you pronounce or get a phrase wrong. Keep practicing and learning from your patients. Making small efforts to speak someone’s primary language goes a long way. Hasta luego!

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