Communication is integral for the survival of individuals, cultures, and countries. A language is a tool of communication used by individuals within the healthcare sector (Ali and Watson 1). This tool enables providers to share ideas, thoughts, and feelings with others. Despite its significance, language can also act as a barrier to proper communication between people and groups. A language barrier often happens when two or more people or groups who speak different languages cannot understand each other, leading to a breakdown in language and communication. The barrier can also originate from physical disabilities, which include hearing loss. Therefore, the language barrier harms communication between individuals and groups within healthcare organizations and can be eliminated through interpreters and hiring a diverse workforce.
A Brief Overview of a Language Barrier
A language barrier is the inability to convey information between two or more people due to linguistic differences. This is an issue in communication that happens in a group of people or between individuals with diverse language backgrounds or dialects (Ali and Watson 1). It usually keeps individuals from understanding each other effectively. Therefore, this can be a major issue, especially when it comes to work, because of the possibility of misunderstanding. The common causes of the barrier are differences in language, regional accents, use of jargon, word choice, grammar and spelling, and the linguistic ability of individuals. Thus, a language limit occurs when people fail to understand each other’s language during communication.
Main Causes of a Language Barrier
The primary cause of a language barrier is a linguistic difference. This is the most evident communication barrier because two people speaking different languages cannot converse (Prabavathi and Nagasubramani 29). For instance, if a patient comes from China and only speaks Chinese and is being treated by a health provider who only speaks English, there is a high possibility that they will not understand each other. At first glance, the Chinese language and English are drastically different. Therefore, language differences will be very difficult for a Chinese patient to understand an English-speaking health provider.
The other cause of a language barrier is the use of jargon. Jargon is a complex language used by professionals in a given discipline or field. This language usually assists professionals in the same field to communicate with clarity and precision (Prabavathi and Nagasubramani 30). However, jargon might be different based on the varying profession and technical fields of an individual. For instance, specialized words used by health providers and engineers are extremely different. Some words such as BP, medical jargon for blood pressure, might cause a language barrier when communicating with an engineer. Thus, jargon can hinder communication, especially when used in different professional fields.
Another factor that contributes to linguistic barriers is word choice. Before communicating, the words used in describing should be carefully examined (Prabavathi and Nagasubramani 30). For example, the words used by an individual to agree on a subject might be seen as contempt. One of the most important functions of language is to build commonality with the audience (Ali and Watson 1). Using strong words can deter understanding for an audience with low academic background. In a hospital, health providers need to understand their patient’s level of education to enable them to choose the right words when writing statements. The words used by an individual can act as a barrier to communication.
The other factor leading to a language barrier in communication is an accent. The accent of an individual belonging to various regions differs even when their language is the same. Prabavathi and Nagasubramani define an accent as a distinctive way of pronouncing a language and is often associated with a given country or social class (31). Although the languages are practically similar among individuals with different accents, the pronunciation interpretations of words vary, leading to a variety of misunderstandings. For example, if a Scottish patient talks to a health professional in London, they will not comprehend most of what the other person says, despite speaking English. Thus, an accent is one of the main language barriers to effective communication.
The Impacts of a Language Barrier on Healthcare
Language barriers adversely impact an individual’s ability to determine services required, such as secure appointments, and effectively engage with healthcare providers. In the United States, most information concerning healthcare services is offered in English. This means that a patient who does not speak English will have insufficient information about available services and cannot access them quickly. For instance, individuals who do not speak good English are less likely to seek healthcare services in the US actively. In addition, due to language barriers, patients usually experience difficulty talking to healthcare providers, booking appointments, and following medical instructions.
The language barrier also contributes to poor patient-provider communication in a healthcare setting. According to Ali and Watson, providers who treat immigrants are more likely to make decisions for those patients (4). The barrier affects patients’ ability to explain their health conditions effectively. The lack of proficiency in English makes it hard for a patient to talk to a healthcare provider offering services in an English-speaking country. This becomes a challenge for patients to describe what they are feeling to healthcare providers. Based on this, health providers are likely to experience challenges during diagnosis or when offering medical instructions, which can adversely impact the provision of healthcare.
Language barriers have a significant impact on healthcare quality and cost. The barrier typically occurs when patients and providers do not speak the same native language (Ali and Watson 5). Regardless of the language barrier, healthcare providers are expected to deliver high-quality care to all patients while adhering to human rights and equity standards. As a result, healthcare providers are forced to get more education on nurse translation to ensure effective communication. Moreover, the providers have to hire and educate nurses from various countries and cultures. Thus, a language barrier can increase the cost of healthcare and reduce its quality.
A language barrier also causes frustration among healthcare providers since they are incapable of engaging patients in health campaigns and preventative initiatives and providing additional support such as prescription home delivery. This can cause humiliation, disempower patients, and erode their trust. Ali and Watson discovered that refugee women who have language problems are more likely to face prejudice and are less likely to participate in healthcare decision-making (4). Thus, a language barrier can reduce the quality of care provided because of the frustrations experienced by healthcare providers.
Solutions to A Language Barrier
The use of professional interpreters is among the solutions for overcoming the language barrier in healthcare. Healthcare translation services are integral in promoting verbal and non-verbal communication, and mediating concepts and cultural practices are required (Ali and Watson 6). A professional interpreter assists with spoken language by translating and mediating between two languages in all directions. For instance, healthcare in English-speaking countries should hire a professional interpreter to mediate in various languages across the globe. Furthermore, a professional interpreter should be able to conversant with the language being interpreted (Ali and Watson 6). Therefore, having an interpreter enables a healthcare organization to break the language barrier.
The other solution to the language barrier is hiring employees from diverse cultures. An employee from a different culture can comfortably speak their language. They can effectively assist the hospital in handling the issue of a language barrier that can affect the cost and quality of service (Ali and Watson 5). For instance, having healthcare providers originating from China, India, France, Spain, Africa, and many more in a facility reduces the impact of a language barrier. A healthcare provider from China will be able to talk with a Chinese patient during care comfortably. Similarly, a patient from Spain can effectively communicate with a provider from the same country hence increasing healthcare quality.
A language barrier harms the productivity of organizations such as healthcare. The barrier interferes with the communication between individuals and departments within an organization. For example, the use of Jargon when a health provider is communicating with a patient can confuse, hence hindering effective communication. This alters the relationship between the people involved in communication. Therefore, it is important to make sure that language barriers are eliminated during communication.
Ali, Parveen Azam, and Roger Watson. “Language Barriers and Their Impact On the Provision of Care to Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Nurses’ perspectives.” Journal of Clinical Nursing, vol. 27, no. 5-6, 2018, pp. e1152-e1160. Wiley Online Library. Web.
Prabavathi, R., and P. C. Nagasubramani. “Effective Oral and Written Communication.” Journal of Applied and Advanced Research 3.1, 2018, pp. 29-32.