How can we overcome language barriers in health care?

25 April 2017

This month we published Providing Health Care in the Context of Language Barriers edited by Elizabeth A. Jacobs and Lisa C. Diamond. In this post the editors tell us about the inspiration behind the book and what we can expect from reading it.

Have you ever had to seek health care in a country where you did not speak the language? Have you ever thought about what the experiences of the patient, care provider and, if present, interpreter are?

As immigration continues and grows across the globe, this has become a frequent experience for patients around the world. Many patients and their health care providers have to communicate across a language barrier, often in collaboration with an interpreter, formal or informal. In this situation, patients’ needs may not be understood or met because of lack of adequate communication. The nature and complexity of language barriers in health care vary within and across nations due to the culture and political nature of the nation and/or the linguistic groups seeking health care in those countries. With this diversity of contexts comes a need for diverse approaches to overcoming language barriers in health care. The goal of our book is to provide a collection of chapters describing these different approaches, their advantages and disadvantages, and special issues which need to be considered in particular contexts or linguistic groups.

This edited volume provides an excellent overview of the global challenge health care providers and linguistically diverse patients face when they seek health care in settings where it is delivered in a language other than their own. The contributing authors provide a diverse set of insights into these challenges and means for overcoming them and highlight how the likely best solutions to the problem of language barriers in health care vary depending on where you are in the world, what means of overcoming them are available, how policy shapes or does not shape these solutions, and the culture, language, and language abilities of the patients being served. They also provide a number of practical ideas and recommendations as to how to address these challenges, from how to work effectively with informal interpreters to developing a means for measuring physician language proficiency. These recommendations sometimes conflict, indicating that, while the challenge is consistent and global, the means for addressing language barriers in health care settings are varied and context-dependent.

We hope you find valuable evidence for the diversity of linguistic needs in the health care setting around the world in this book and that it serves you as an important resource for understanding this increasing global challenge, the different means for addressing it, and issues that must be addressed when developing solutions.

Patients worldwide deserve to be heard and understood and we hope this work helps make this happen.

For more information about this book, please visit our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Medical Discourse in Professional, Academic and Popular Settings edited by Pilar Ordóñez-López and Nuria Edo-Marzá and Ideology, Ethics and Policy Development in Public Service Interpreting and Translation edited by Carmen Valero-Garcés and Rebecca Tipton.


New series: Translation, Interpreting and Social Justice in a Globalised World

19 February 2016

We are very happy to introduce this new book series on Translation, Interpreting and Social Justice in a Globalised World edited by Philipp Angermeyer and Katrijn Maryns. In this post, the series editors introduce their series and explain what topics it will cover.

Series flyer

Series flyer – Click to enlarge

In our era of globalisation and migration, translation and interpreting are ubiquitous phenomena wherever speakers of different languages come into contact, and are inextricably linked to questions of social power and inequality. In contexts as varied as courts, schools, hospitals and workplaces, or in interactions with police or refugee services, translators and interpreters variously take on roles as institutional gatekeepers, intercultural mediators, or advocates for members of marginalised communities, with evident implications for the encounters and the participants whose communication is thus mediated.

This international series welcomes authored monographs and edited collections that address translation and interpreting in settings of diversity, globalisation, migration and asylum. Books in the series will discuss how translation and interpreting practices (or their absence) may advance or hinder social justice. A key aim of the series is to encourage dialogue between scholars and professionals working in translation and interpreting studies and those working in sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, or other fields related to linguistics.

Books in the series will cover both translation and interpreting services provided by state and corporate entities, as well as informal, community-based translation and interpreting. We welcome proposals covering any combination of languages (including Sign languages) and from a wide variety of geographical contexts. A guiding aim of the series is to empower those who may be disadvantaged by their lack of access to majority or official languages. Proposals which bridge the gap between theoretical and practical domains are particularly encouraged.

Topics which may be addressed by books in the series include (but are not limited to):

  • Translation and language rights
  • Access to democracy and citizenship
  • Asylum and migration procedures
  • The media and minority-language broadcasting and publishing
  • Educational settings (including community-based education)
  • Medical settings (including care settings and provision of public health information)
  • Legal settings (law enforcement, court, prison, counselling)
  • Cultural translation
  • Interactions with business and private-sector institutions
  • Translation and intercultural relations and conflict
  • Ethical and political considerations in translation

We welcome proposals on research that contributes to these themes. Proposals should be sent to Laura Longworth, Commissioning Editor. For more information about the new series please see our website or download a flyer for the series here.


New edition of Interpretation by James Nolan

10 October 2012

With the second edition of Interpretation: Techniques and Exercises published this week, we asked the book’s author James Nolan to tell us a little about the different places where the book is used and what new material is included in the new edition.

Glendon College, Toronto

The first edition of Interpretation: Techniques and Exercises has been adopted by many interpreter training programs offered by institutions, universities and interpreters’ associations, including seminars and workshops for conference interpreters, court interpreters, military interpreters and community interpreters. Recently, the book gained recognition as one of the main authoritative works in the field by being cited in an amicus brief before the United States Supreme Court: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs/10-1472_petitioner_amcu_professors.authcheckdam.pdf

Multicultural Community Services, Washington D.C.

Using the book’s syllabus and exercises in a series of professional-level training events has provided me with fertile ground for creating innovative teaching scenarios. Last year, in a seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand, we were able to develop video-based interpreting exercises and role-plays using several languages, including sign language. This year, at a training course in Washington D.C., I used the book for the first time in a seminar for community interpreters grouping several different language combinations, adapting the exercises to their needs.

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

In the second edition I have made several improvements and brought the book up to date. First, I incorporated a number of suggestions I had gleaned from readers, students and book reviewers that I felt would make the book more useful. I edited a number of exercises to make them useable with additional language combinations, and included a section of additional exercises to help develop short-term memory and to practice reformulation strategies. Last but not least, I included in the bibliography a section of internet links providing quick access to audio or video speeches for listening and interpretation practice. This last feature will make the book better suited for use with the distance-learning interpretation courses that have recently been making their appearance, and may contribute to making those courses more effective. I will be teaching one such course myself this fall for Glendon College and I hope the experience will suggest further improvements that can be made to the book.


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