I’ve been involved with Spanish for nearly 28 years now, and only the last 7-10 years have I been keenly aware of the differences in meaning when someone says “discuss” in English vs. when they say discutir in Spanish.
So don’t feel bad if you’ve used the wrong word for discuss when speaking Spanish, it’s not a distinction that most people understand.
I hear discutir all of the time in my medical Spanish classes when students are intending to say: “Let’s discuss your…(high blood pressure, diet, exercise habits, etc).” It seems so natural, and it looks like a perfect translation for discuss, however the meanings are not the same in most cases.
In English you can discuss just about anything and it doesn’t imply any sort of negative context nor heightened emotions; it’s a neutral word. When emotions are high or there is a negative context around a discussion in English, we tend to call it an argument, and use the verb argue instead of discuss.
The problem in Spanish is that discutir tends to imply an argument. Discutir is not a neutral term in Spanish, it almost always refers to a tense conversation. So, when you’re talking to your patients about health concerns that you’d like to discuss with them, you should not use the verb discutir.
Here are two preferred verbs in Spanish to describe a neutral discussion:
- Conversar: Vamos a conversar sobre su presión sanguínea, es demasiada alta.
- Hablar: Hay varias cosas que podemos hacer para controlar la presión, pero para empezar, vamos a hablar sobre su dieta.
My preference for discuss in Spanish is to use the verb hablar. It’s easy, everyone knows it, and you can’t go wrong. And when you need an equivalent for the neutral word discussion in English, go with conversación in Spanish.
If you have some comments or further questions, we can continue la conversación below in the Facebook comment area :).