English for Pharmacists

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Manabu Miyata and Satoko Ōsawa. Tokyo: Houbunshorin
Ben Grafström, Akita University

[Manabu Miyata and Satoko Ōsawa. Tokyo: Houbunshorin, 2016. pp. 94. ¥1,900. ISBN: 978-4-89347-244-1.]

English for Pharmacists is an EFL topic-based textbook that focuses on developing students’ listening and speaking skills as well as building technical vocabulary. The book’s title, however, is slightly misleading, because pharmacy majors study chemistry, biology, and medicine—topics that are absent from this book. Regardless, this resource is excellent for preparing students in the broader health and medical fields to communicate in English. It is particularly beneficial for medical students who need to use specialized English expressions for the Objective Structured Clinical Examination, which many medical schools require to be performed in English.

The book presents 346 target vocabulary items, phrases, and useful expressions for interacting with customers visiting a drug store or seeking help for a variety of ailments. The introduction and instructions for the activities are only in Japanese, so the book is obviously targeted towards Japanese language speakers. Even though there does not seem to be an English support website or instructor’s guide, the book’s activities are straightforward and easy to follow.

There are 14 thematic-based units, covering a range of scenarios from Helping Customers to Cold Medicine, and there is also a final review unit. Each unit begins with the Introduction section, followed by the Fundamentals section, and finally with the Practice section. The Introduction section describes the theme’s background. The Fundamentals section consists of a list of between 14 to 22 terms and phrases (e.g., mucous membrane, hay fever) and a list of 5 to 10 phrases (e.g., I recommend this medicine; Are you presently being treated for any illness?). The Practice section consists of approximately four activities ranging from syntactic drills to listening activities, such as dictation, cloze, and listening comprehension questions. Teachers can easily cover one unit per class and finish the book in a single semester. The book contains a bilingual glossary of all the terms, and the accompanying audio-files (available for free download from the publisher’s website) provide pronunciation models.

The authors do not specify for which particular language level this book is best suited. The grammar is similar to what is taught at the middle school third-year level, so this book is more than adequate for students in the tertiary level. However, the challenge of this book is its vocabulary. Using the online vocabulary profiler Lextutor (Cobb, n.d.; Heatley, Nation, & Coxhead, 2002) I analyzed a sample of half of the book’s target vocabulary, and 43% of the words are off-list, indicating that these words are not included in the New General Service List’s 2,000 most frequent words (Brown, 2013) or in the New Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000) (e.g., atopic dermatitis, gastric ulcer).

The audio files and listening exercises are perhaps the book’s most valuable features—and are what some similar textbooks lack. According to Kawashima (2018), the lengths of technical medical English vocabulary and their difficult pronunciations are often daunting to health and medical students. Therefore, if utilized effectively, the book’s listening exercises can help students with this struggle. As such, this book and its audio resources can help students with both listening comprehension in health related scenarios (input) and with their own pronunciation of complex words (output). A few recommendations would be for students to use the MP3 files for the listen and repeat, shadowing, or dictation cloze activities, which can be done inside or outside the classroom.

Both drugstore workers and health-field specialists need speaking, listening, interpersonal skills as well as some understanding of everyday terms related to health and illness—all of which this book fully addresses. Whereas other health textbooks this reviewer has used focused primarily on reading comprehension, English for Pharmacists’ exercises require students to communicate actively with their partner, playing the role of the patient.

English for Pharmacists was used with a group class of Physical Therapy (PT), Occupational Therapy (OT), and Nursing majors (78% female, 22% male; 47% reported having an Eiken level of either pre-2 or 2) enrolled in a 4-year degree program. The most frequent feedback about the book was that the vocabulary and expressions were hard; the topics, vocabulary, and expressions have a strong connection to nursing; and that the students want to use this book! A few PT and OT majors reported that the book did not suit the needs of their major. One student said it was beyond their level.

Overall, this book seemed to have a positive, motivating effect on my students. The terms and expressions are practical and address ailments that health and medical students will undoubtedly need to deal with in their profession. The publisher, however, should provide an English instructor’s manual and English instructions for non-Japanese speakers.



Browne, C. (2013). The new general service list: celebrating 60 years of vocabulary learning. The Language Teacher, 37(4), 13–16. https://doi.org/10.37546/JALTTLT37.4

Cobb, T. (n.d.) Web Vocabprofile. An adaptation of Heatley, Nation & Coxhead’s (2002) Range. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from http://www.lextutor.ca/vp

Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213–238. https://doi.org/10.2307/3587951

Heatley, A., Nation, I.S.P. & Coxhead, A. (2002). Range and frequency programs (Version 1.0.0). https://www.wgtn.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/paul-nation#vocab-programs

Kawashima, T. (2018). Using a pronunciation table to make medical terms more approachable. Nursing English Nexus, 2(1), 6–12.