Language barriers can pose significant challenges for organizations that serve a multilingual client or patient base or that have global operations. In interactions involving more than one cultural or linguistic background, Language Access is critical to ensuring effective communication among participants, reducing the risk of misunderstandings, and empowering participants to fully engage with their counterparts in the interaction.
What is Language Access?
Language Access is broadly defined as the ability of linguistically diverse individuals, referred to as individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in healthcare contexts, to communicate effectively and access information, products and services, and opportunities in the same manner as English-speakers.
This is where interpreters come in. Different from translators (who instead specialize in translating written documents), interpreters help people overcome language barriers in a live interaction, whether spoken or signed. Interpreting services are an essential resource that enable organizations to make their products and services language accessible.
Here, we look at 5 important ways interpreters and interpreting services help organizations make essential products and services accessible to a linguistically diverse client or patient base.
1. Enhanced Communication
Interpreters help speakers of different languages communicate effectively, whether in person or remotely through Over-the-Phone or Video Remote Interpreting.
Professional interpreters do more than just translate words from one language to another. In addition to domain-specific terminology (e.g. medical or legal), interpreters are trained to take subtle elements of language such as regional and dialectical variation, idioms, humor, and cultural tradition into account. This unique skill set ensures that ideas are conveyed accurately and professionally between parties and that every participant in a meeting or conversation understands the information being presented and is empowered to contribute.
Ultimately, enhanced communication results in better collaboration, stronger interpersonal relationships, and improved outcomes.
Real World Example: In Japanese culture, body posture, facial expression, and other non-verbal communication cues can carry as much weight in an interaction as the words that are used. A professional interpreter is able to pick up on these cues and delicately weave them into their interpreting practice for speakers of other languages who may not know to be looking for these signs.
2. Cultural Competence
Interpreters can help surface cultural differences in an interaction and bring a deeper understanding of the discourse subject to participants, helping to avoid potential cultural misunderstandings. Think of them as skilled cultural ambassadors in a spoken or signed interaction.
Through their intimate knowledge of both cultures, interpreters can help participants in the exchange navigate sensitive topics, have candid discussions without risk of offense, and work through other types of circumstantial challenges. Their presence in an interaction can also help the non-English speaking individual feel empowered to speak more directly or voice concerns.
By working with professional interpreters who have training and experience in cross-cultural communication, organizations can ensure their services and products are delivered in a culturally-appropriate manner, demonstrating meaningful commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Real World Example: Many Muslim cultures observe Islamic guidelines regarding modesty, which can impact the way Muslims prefer to engage with healthcare professionals. Having an experienced medical interpreter present can help Muslim patients feel empowered to surface any preferences or concerns in a culturally-appropriate manner.
3. Improved Compliance
Depending on the circumstance, language access is often required by law or regulation. Oftentimes, this includes requirements to offer interpreting services to non-English speaking and Deaf constituents. Interpreters help ensure that non-English-speaking and Deaf individuals are able to access essential services, participate meaningfully in public meetings, and receive essential information about their rights and responsibilities.
Interpreting services support language access by helping organizations meet their obligations under federal, state, and local laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin.
Real World Example: Healthcare providers are required under federal law to offer interpreting services for individuals with LEP. A patient who is denied language access has the right to file a complaint of discrimination with the Department of Justice, which may lead to invasive audits or hefty fines.
4. Increased Efficiency
Interpreting services can increase efficiency by reducing the need for lengthy back-and-forth communication between parties who do not speak the same language fluently. By facilitating accurate communication, interpreters help participants in an interaction reach common ground more quickly and effectively, allowing them to spend more time resolving differences and achieving shared goals and less time merely overcoming language barriers.
These gains in efficiency save time and resources, benefitting both the organization and the linguistically diverse individuals that they serve.
Real World Example: In the absence of a professional American Sign Language interpreter, Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals often utilize mobile devices or pen and paper to exchange written notes back and forth with hearing individuals. This process can be time consuming and require many points of clarification. A professional ASL interpreter helps parties reach understanding faster and with greater accuracy.
5. Improved Outcomes
For organizations that provide a service and measure the success of that service against specific metrics, such as healthcare providers, medical interpreters can help achieve improved outcomes. Related to increased efficiency, this is due to the interpreter acting as a sort of mediator who helps parties reach understanding and consensus faster.
Real World Example: Healthcare organizations that provide interpreting services for patients with LEP can improve patient satisfaction, increase adherence to treatment plans thereby reducing readmission rates, and reduce the overall cost of care per-patient with LEP.
Interpreting services have become increasingly important for organizations that operate in multilingual contexts. Whether your organization is providing essential services to non-English-speaking individuals, engaging with diverse communities, or working across borders, interpreting services can help you achieve your goals.
By improving communication with stakeholders, leveraging cultural competence, ensuring regulatory compliance, increasing efficiency, and improving outcomes, interpreting services can help organizations achieve language access and enhance the impact of their products and services.
As the only option for medically underserved populations, which often include patients with LEP, to receive quality healthcare is often FQHCs, they function as an important lifeline in their communities. By helping FQHCs ensure that everyone has access to quality healthcare services, regardless of language or cultural barriers, interpreting services are a critical resource for FQHCs to fulfill their mission.