Teaching medical English to undergraduates at the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Medicine

Christopher Holmes

17 March 2004

Required courses

  • Medical English 1

  • Medical English 2


  • Medical English 3

  • Volunteer activities

Mission statement

The goals of the University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine's Medical English program:

  • to improve students' passive and active command of English through development of reading, writing, and speaking skills (language instruction),

  • to increase students' medical vocabulary and thereby their understanding of medicine (enrichment),

  • to accustom students to non-Japanese norms and behavior (acculturation),

  • to prepare students to function in non-Japanese professional settings (preparation for overseas internships and active participation in international conferences), and

  • to humanize students' medical education (re-humanization).

Goals of Medical English 1 & 2:

  • To acquaint all med students with how case presentations are done in English;

  • To encourage students' active use of English by facilitating discussions, as much as possible on medical topics;

  • To prepare students to introduce themselves and converse intelligibly in English;

  • To encourage the asking of questions;

  • To increase exposure to real English, especially spoken English.

These aspects of ME 1 were covered at the MITA meeting:

  • Preparation

  • Orientation

  • Course content

  • Feedback

  • Bottom line

Orientation in 2003 involved mainly...

  • General instructions

  • My self-introduction



Medical English 1 General Instructions, 2003-04
(last update 2003/10/03)

The only absolute requirement of this course is that you attend all classes (unless specifically excused). If you miss more than three classes without submitting a written excuse, you will fail. You are asked to speak only English in the classroom, and to participate as actively as possible in all activities.
The class is scheduled to end at 17:00; you may leave at any time after 17:00 without specific permission, provided you do not disrupt continuing activities.

Some preparation (i.e., homework) is required. If you are asked, for example, to read something before the next class to prepare you for that day's activities, make sure you have read it. Failure to prepare does not excuse you from participation. Note the words you don't understand (by marking them, for example) before looking them up in the dictionary. If possible, ask for explanations in class. In this course, participation (see the paragraph below) is far, far more important than perfection.
If some assigned materials are not fully used in class, do not regard this as a tragedy. The purpose of all assignments and classroom activities is to prepare you to use however much English you know more actively in the future.

In this class, you will be asked to form small groups or teams of four classmates. If you prefer to work with certain classmates of yours, make arrangements to team up with them and sit with them initially, but membership in a group is not permanent: the groups will be reshuffled periodically. All members are jointly responsible for accomplishing the group's task: make sure there is a contingency plan if one of you fails to accomplish his or her task.

The most important goal of this class is to train you to ask and answer questions in English. The time for asking questions is always now. Please help to make the class lively by asking questions whenever they occur to you. All activities in the classroom will be conducted in English, but there is no final exam, and no record will be kept of mistakes or of right or wrong answers.
When you're asked a question, it makes no difference whether your answer is correct or incorrect: don't waste your classmates' time, just say something, quickly. Don't be afraid of grammatical or other errors: you can't learn without making mistakes. In this class, the more mistakes you make, the more you'll learn.


Self introduction

My name is Christopher Holmes
"Foreign member of the teaching staff"
Office of International Academic Affairs
University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine

Course content

  • Attendance & identification

  • Follow-up

  • Dictation

  • Definition

  • Musical introduction & interlude

  • Audiovisual aids

  • Listen and take notes

  • Activities

  • What I Learned in Class Today

  • Assignments

  • Dismissal

Audiovisual aids, mainly of two kinds:

  • QuickTime movies, e.g.:

  • Biological Clock

  • Low-Tar Cigarettes

  • Recordings, e.g.:

  • Human Chimeras


Before viewing CBS Documents' "Biological Clock"

Underline here whether you are male or female, then briefly answer these questions about human fertility:

1) Up to what age can a woman today remain fertile (and have children if she wants to)?
2) How long can a man's sperm be kept frozen and yet remain viable?
3) How long can a woman's ovum (egg) be kept outside her body and remain viable?
4) How old was the oldest woman who ever bore a child?
5) What age do you think is the most desirable age (or age range) for women to begin bearing children?

Answer all questions. If you're unsure, indicate that your answer is a guess by following it with a question mark.
After answering all the questions, discuss these questions in English among the classmates at your table. Use this sheet to take notes (both questions and answers, double-spaced). Keep this sheet for yourself.

________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________


Before listening to NPR's "Human Chimeras"

Briefly answer these questions:

1) What is a chimera (in biology)?
2) What is a cell line?
3) Can different individuals share the same cell line?
4) Can more than one cell line coexist in a single individual?
5) If so, under what circumstances can this happen?

Answer all questions. If you're unsure, discuss the question with your tablemates and, if necessary, look up the word in a dictionary.
After finding answers to all the questions, discuss these questions in English amongst the classmates at your table. We will continue the discussion after listening to the radio program and doing the dictation exercise. Use the separate sheet for the dictation exercise. Use this sheet to take notes (both questions and answers, double-spaced). Keep this sheet for yourself.

________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________


Activities include notably

  • Self-introductions

  • Small group discussions

  • Working in pairs

  • Presentations

"What I Learned in Class Today"

  • This is a keystone in the Medical English program, providing feedback and writing practice.

Samples range from the minimalist approach... summary and insightful comments:


Weekly assignment sheets include other types of information:

  • Phrase of the day (proverb or quotation)

  • Essential terms

  • Common errors

  • Spelling

  • Distinctions



Medical English 1, Week 2: "Moderation in all things."

Definition exercise: For next week, prepare your own definition of an intensive care unit (ICU). Be ready to write it down during the next class.

Essential terms: A miss is a failure to hit the target, not a mistake (which is an incorrect answer or choice). I hope you'll learn the difference. You've all studied English for a long time, but few of you would claim you've learned it already. Strictly speaking, you shouldn't say "I learned English in high school" unless you are now comfortable with English, able to express yourself fairly well, and not planning to study it anymore.

Common errors: These common words are never plural:
equipment, research, knowledge, information, homework, nutrition, progress, help, luck, stuff, jargon, music, baggage, luggage, the following, panic.

Spelling: Everyone misspells occasionally, but you will be MDs. You must not misspell the following words: doctor, physician, patient, disease, medicine, drug, pharmaceutical, technology, technique.

Your individual assignment: Next week, you will very briefly (in 30 seconds) explain the term indicated below to your classmates. The highlighted one is YOURS: you must prepare it. (You are always welcome to prepare any of the others as well, if you want to be especially well prepared for the dictation.)
What do you and your classmates need to know about this term?

alcohol dehydrogenase
glycolic acid
organ toxicity
organ failure
lethal dose
a solution (of a chemical substance)
radiator (of a car)
windshield wiper
to succumb to...


Excerpts from these books are required reading.

The OHCM is a compact resource.


  • "What I Learned in Medical English This Semester"

Bottom line

  • Students are eager to act like doctors.

  • Class length (two hours) was appropriate.

  • Class size (about 20) was manageable with these methods.

  • "Learn to walk before you run."

Medical English 2 and the Electives (Medical English 3, ER Evening, Extra Medical English, and Oral Presentation Training) will be covered in a future presentation.

[back to index of past meetings]