Important Haitian Creole Vocabulary List & Tips for Dental Groups Serving Haiti

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This article is meant to give quick cultural and communication advice for dental groups serving Haiti or Haitian patients in the Haitian diaspora, particularly the Dominican Republic.

With 80% of Haiti’s citizens living below the poverty line, there is an overwhelming need for health services. Short term dental groups and long term dental volunteers planning on serving in Haiti possess skills and the necessary will to make a dramatic difference in the quality of life of many. However, as is the case in international service and development, one’s expertise and good will is only applicable when coupled with the cultural knowledge and communication skills necessary to connect with the patients. With these skills, service can be quite satisfying and educational for both the dental team and the patients. Without these skills, service efforts can be wasted and good intentions can be largely misunderstood, creating division and mistrust among patients, which just makes things more difficult for your group as well as others hoping to serve. This article is meant to give quick cultural and communication advice for dental groups serving Haiti or Haitian patients in the Haitian diaspora, particularly the Dominican Republic.

Cultural Insight and Advice

First, as when visiting any foreign culture, try to remember that different does not mean bad or wrong and that some, not all, of your instincts toward what is wrong and right come simply from practices you are used to. Open your mind to the possibility that the practices you are accustomed to are not undoubtedly correct or are not the only practices that are correct.

If you are truly treating the members of society most in need of your services, you can assume that your patients have never been to a dentist and have received a small amount of formal health care. Therefore, they won’t be used to the sounds and feelings of dental work and this heightens the fear they may face. You likely became accustomed to receiving dental work at a young age and don’t realize that your level of comfort with receiving dental work is an effect of that. Additionally, it is important to understand that Haiti was essentially founded on violence and abuse as it was a French run slave colony that was eventually overthrown by the slave population. Although the country gained independence and the same system of slavery no longer exists, abuse and violence seems to be abnormally woven into the Haitian culture. With this in mind, those wishing to provide aid should be sensitive to this understandable lack of trust and take every measure possible to prove oneself a friend and not an enemy. Proving this and establishing trust cannot be done quickly so it important to partner with organizations or individuals that have this established relationship with the population being served. Volunteers are then responsible for maintaining this trust by treating patients with patience and sensitivity.

There are some groups that wish to only serve children. Arguments can be made on both sides as to the reason behind focusing primarily on adults or on children but an argument that overrules all others is that healthy adults are more able to take care of children. Therefore, it makes sense that both adults and children receive treatment.

Communication Tools

In order to be sensitive to your patient’s experience, thorough explanations of the procedures being performed and what to expect is necessary. Knowledge of the following vocabulary should not replace the presence and participation of skilled interpretors but you will feel much more empowered to communicate with your patients if you take the time and make the effort to memorize this list.

Hello / Good morning. – Bonjou

Hello / Good afternoon. – Bonswa

What is your name? – Koman ou rele?

My name is ... – Mwen rele ...

Dentist - dantis

Tooth - dant

Mouth - bouch

Tongue – lang

Root - rasin

Gum - zansib

Chair - chez

Sit - chita

Lay down - kouche

Get up - leve

Open - ouvri

Close - femen

Bite - mode

Suck - souse

Show - montre

Enter - antre

Hurt – fè mal

Very good – tre byen

Wait - tann

Not yet - poko

Fill (filling) - bouche

Pull (take out) - retire

Clean (verb) - netwaye

Clean (adjective) - pwòp

Done - fini

Shot (injection) - piki

Feel - santi

Sensitive - sansib

Hot - cho

Cold - fwet

Eat - manje

Drink - bwe

Hole - tou

Infection - enfeksyon

Sick - malad

Rot - pouri

Ruin – gate

Destroy - detwi

Little - piti

Big - gro

Pinch - zongle

Relax - poze

Move – fè movman

Don’t - pa

Just - sel

Shake - souke

A lot - anpil

A little – yon ti kal

Day - jou

Week - semenn

Month - mwa

Year - ane

Go - ale

Pill - grenn

Spit - krache

Next - pwochen

Person - moun

Please – souple / sivouple

Thanks - Mesi

Which tooth hurts ?– Ki lès dant ki fè ou mal?

Since when? – Depi ki lè?

Open your mouth. – Ouvri bouch ou.

You have a cavity. – Ou gen yon tou.

You have one that needs to be pulled – Ou gen yon ki bezwen retire.

This shot will hurt. – Piki sa pral fè ou mal.

But it will make you numb. – Men li pral fè ou pa ka santi anyen.

Three times a day. – Twa fwa pa jou.

You will be numb for three hours. – Ou p’ap santi anyen pou twaze tan.

You will feel pressure. – Ou pral santi presyon.

Suck on this tube. – Souse tib sa.

You don’t have to be scared. – Ou pa bezwen pè.

Don’t move. – Pa deplase. / Pa fè mouvman.

You’re done. – Ou fini.

You did very well. – Ou te fè tre byen.

Hold this here. – Kenbe sa la.

For the pain. – Pou doule a.

Until they are all gone. – Jis yo tout fini.

If you don’t pull this tooth you can get an infection. – Si ou pa retire dant sa ou kapab gen yon enfeksyon.

Some bleeding is normal. – Sa nomal pou san koule konsa.

If you don’t have a Haitian Creole speaking friend nearby to help you with the pronunciation of this vocabulary in preparation for your trip, it is valuable to purchase resources that will help you here. If this is not an option, one can memorize the spelling of the vocabulary and receive pronunciation aid upon arriving in Haiti.


About the Author

Caitlin McHale is director and co-founder of a non-profit organization called Project Esperanza which serves the Haitian immigrant population of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Read more of her posts on her personal blog or at

1 comment

lucia anna
Posted on Nov 22, 2010