Appropriate Language to Use When Conveying a Health-Related Message Through an Interpreter


Language barriers are a common challenge in health care settings, especially when patients and providers do not share the same language or culture. Language barriers can negatively affect the quality of care, patient safety, satisfaction, and outcomes. To overcome language barriers, health care providers often rely on interpreters to facilitate communication with patients who have limited proficiency in the dominant language of the society. However, working with interpreters is not a simple task. It requires specific skills and strategies to ensure effective and accurate communication. In this article, we will discuss some of the best practices for using appropriate language when conveying a health-related message through an interpreter.

What is Appropriate Language?

Appropriate language is the language that is clear, respectful, and culturally sensitive. It is the language that avoids jargon, slang, idioms, metaphors, and technical terms that may be unfamiliar or confusing to the patient or the interpreter. It is also the language that acknowledges and addresses the patient’s preferences, beliefs, values, and expectations regarding health and illness. Appropriate language aims to establish rapport, trust, and understanding between the provider and the patient, as well as between the provider and the interpreter.

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Why is Appropriate Language Important?

Appropriate language is important for several reasons. First, it helps to ensure that the patient understands the health-related message that the provider wants to convey. This can improve patient education, informed consent, diagnosis, treatment, compliance, and follow-up. Second, it helps to prevent misunderstandings, errors, omissions, or distortions that may occur during the interpretation process. This can reduce liability, adverse events, complaints, and conflicts. Third, it helps to enhance collaboration with interpreters as professional partners in communication. This can increase interpreter satisfaction, performance, and quality.

How to Use Appropriate Language?

There are several strategies that providers can use to use appropriate language when conveying a health-related message through an interpreter. Some of these strategies are:

  • Introduce yourself to the interpreter and explain your role and purpose.
  • Acknowledge the interpreter as a professional in communication and respect his or her role.
  • Speak directly to the patient, not to the interpreter. Maintain eye contact with the patient and use a friendly tone and body language.
  • Speak more slowly rather than more loudly. Use short sentences and simple words. Pause after each segment to allow the interpreter to interpret.
  • Avoid using jargon, slang, idioms, metaphors, or technical terms that may be unfamiliar or confusing to the patient or the interpreter. If you have to use them, explain them in plain language or ask the interpreter to do so.
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage the patient to express his or her thoughts and feelings. Avoid leading or suggestive questions that may influence the patient’s response.
  • Check for understanding frequently by asking the patient to repeat or summarize what you have said or by using teach-back methods.
  • Be aware of cultural differences that may affect communication. For example, some cultures may have different norms regarding eye contact, personal space, touch, gestures, silence, or emotions. Some cultures may also have different beliefs, values, expectations, or preferences regarding health and illness. Ask the patient or the interpreter about these issues if you are unsure or curious.
  • Be respectful of the patient’s dignity, autonomy, and confidentiality. Do not make assumptions or judgments about the patient’s background, situation, or choices. Do not disclose sensitive information without the patient’s consent.
  • Give feedback to the interpreter about his or her performance and thank him or her for their assistance.


Using appropriate language when conveying a health-related message through an interpreter is essential for effective communication in health care settings. Appropriate language can help providers to deliver quality care, improve patient outcomes, prevent errors, and enhance collaboration with interpreters. Providers can use various strategies to use appropriate language such as speaking clearly and simply, avoiding jargon and idioms, checking for understanding frequently, being aware of cultural differences, and being respectful of the patient’s dignity and confidentiality.

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