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English for Health: Class Keeps English Learners Healthy, Saves Money

Posted Thursday, May 9th, 2013--10:00 p.m.

Even when English is your first language, it's tough to understand medical terms, labels, and procedures. Imagine how tough it is for someone like Adriana Perez, who's still learning English?
Perez says, "For me, it's frustrating if I can't explain my symptoms... if I don't understand the doctor."

And "low health literacy" is potentially dangerous. According to the non-profit Literacy Network, "Literacy Skills are the strongest predictor of someone's health status--more than age, income, education level, employment status or race/ethnicity."

Someone's health can be in jeopardy if they misunderstand prescription or food labels, can't read their blood pressure, don't understand good nutrition or vaccines, how to read their body mass index, don't know when to go the doctor or where, or don't understand what the provider's saying.

Low health literacy can be expensive for our economy as well. One study by John A. Vernon, PhD shows that health illiteracy costs Dane County more than 465-million dollars a year, and costs the Wisconsin economy 3.5 to 7.5 billion dollars."

"English for Health" instructor Marie Green Ganser says, "If you don't understand the health system, for example, you might go to the emergency room for an ear ache or a sore throat. ..and we try to teach them (students) proper uses of those facilities."

Over the 12-week class, the Literacy Network teaches English language learners how to navigate the health system, good health and nutrition habits, how to read those confusing labels, and communicate with providers. It ends with a mock clinic visit, where the student goes through a mock physical exam and pharmacy visit....and also hopefully ends with a healthier understanding of what it takes to stay healthy.

Green Ganser says, "It's extremely gratifying. Most of these people have full time jobs and they still carve out the time to come to these classes." Perez adds, "I feel great because my vocabulary is growing, and I think my English is improving. I have to give my teacher a 'thank you.'"

If you'd like to find out more about this free Literacy Network class, or find out more about volunteering for the organization, go to:

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