By Robin Faux, MTTI Anatomy & Physiology Instructor
They say the best way to learn a foreign language is to completely submerse yourself in it. Going to massage school can certainly satisfy that experience, but when you’re trying to absorb information from lectures and textbooks, it can sometimes be overwhelming to wade through words that are 4 to 5 syllables or longer. Craniosacral… sacrotuberous… neuromuscular… adrenocorticotropic… huh!? On top of that, you’re expected to learn directional terms such as “superior…proximal…lateral…superficial,” and you’re probably thinking to yourself, “if I wanted to learn a foreign language at break-neck speed, I would have become a barista at the coffee shop down the street!”
Fortunately, there is a system to these words and if you can recognize bits and pieces of the word, you can figure out its meaning. For instance, a physician once diagnosed me with lymphoadenopathy. (pronounced LIMF-o-ADD-en-O-path-ee) I had never heard the word, but within seconds I was able to determine what my diagnosis really was. (The doctor laughed because he never had a patient figure out what the word meant. Being sick and having waited more than an hour for his findings, I wasn’t nearly as amused as him.)
First, I recommend paying attention to the medical terminology lists you study in MTTI’s anatomy and physiology classes. As you learn new root words, prefixes, and suffixes, you will begin to recognize them in the larger words you will see throughout your textbooks. To learn the roots, prefixes, and suffixes, I always suggest flash cards—it takes time to make them, but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re really ambitious, use one color for the roots, another color for the prefixes, and a third color for the suffixes. In addition to drilling those smaller terms, I recommend investing in a good medical dictionary so you can look up the monstrous words or you can look for examples in which these syllables are used.
Let’s go back to the example lymphoadenopathy. In this case, the root word (the base on which this words is built) is “adeno,” which means “relating to a gland or glands.” Okay, the doctor was referring to my glands—now what? The prefix and suffix are syllables added to the front or back of a word to modify it’s meaning. In this case, the prefix is “lympho-“ which means, “representing the lymph.” So now we know we’re talking specifically about lymph glands. Finally, the suffix “-pathy” modifies the word again and means, “pertaining to a disease.” So, by recognizing these three key parts of the word, one could conclude that “lymphoadenopathy” is a disease of the lymph glands or lymph nodes.
If you have never studied medical terminology before, then even the previous paragraph could seem a little daunting. However, I want to remind you that when you started reading, you probably learned smaller words and gradually learned to read and understand longer words as time went on. Give it time, practice as much as you can, and soon you will feel fluent in this new language.