Cultural Intelligence: When knowing a language does not translate to knowing a culture

By: Mara Jimenez, Health Engagement Designer and Hispanic Approach Lead; and Marirosa Goetz, Certified Spanish Translator at Eliza

Let’s imagine you go to a restaurant with your friends. It’s your first time there. You open the menu and you quickly realize that none of the dishes seem familiar to you. Your eyes glance at the “Baked Alaska.” You’re craving fish, so you confidently order it. Your friends look at you a little strangely but you ignore it. Then, your meal arrives and... Surprise!  It’s a piece of cake!  You’ve just experienced a time when knowing a language does not mean knowing a culture. In this case you knew what the word “baked” meant and what “Alaska” meant, but you didn’t realize that together they meant something else. Now imagine if this happened to you every day, whether at the supermarket or at the hospital. You would be feeling lost, confused and stressed most of the time. This is the reality that many people face when they are trying to adapt to a new culture.     

Consider communicating in the context of healthcare. No matter which language you speak, healthcare has a culture all of its own – a series of phrases, euphemisms, and acronyms that even the most fluent can struggle with at times. For instance, what if a doctor diagnosed you with synchronous diaphragmatic flutter? Sounds scary and complicated... But it merely means that you have the hiccups. So try to picture a Hispanic patient who just mastered the concept that ‘hipo’ means ‘hiccups’ and how confused they’d be by this diagnosis? Entering the American healthcare space requires yet another complex layer of communications skills. The challenge of this undertaking often results in barriers that may seem impossible to overcome for a non-English speaker.

This is where communicating with cultural intelligence, defined as “the ability to cross boundaries and thrive in multiple cultures”1, plays a key role in effective communication. Here’s an analogy – if knowing a language allows you to talk and listen to somebody, having cultural intelligence allows you establish a relationship. This learning asset has become an essential element in the field of intercultural communication and is a necessary skill to develop in the growing global economy. It is particularly helpful in healthcare – when adapting campaigns about behavior change require so much more than simple ‘word-for-word’ translation. In a recent article in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine addressing disparities in healthcare, co-authors Anita Misra-Herbet and J. Harry Isaacson note that barriers to good outcomes go beyond language, and include issues involving authority, physical contact, communication styles, gender, sexuality and family – just to name a few.  

It’s essential to understand its cultural context In order to engage a Hispanic population and inspire action in healthcare. Where many communicators fail is in the notion that every English message can be simply translated to Spanish word-for-word and have the same impact. Enter Eliza. Eliza’s Health Engagement Management solution and our culturally adapted approach helps healthcare organizations overcome barriers to engaging the Hispanic Population to improve overall health, reduce costs and improve member satisfaction. This month, Population Health News released a Case Study written by both Mari and I, along with Michael Zagami, Eliza Vice President of Health Engagement Design that shares considerations and variations in the content that made a difference in the way Spanish speakers received well-child and diabetes care outreach. Download the case study and discover the impact a culturally adapted approach had for one client that resulted in a 3.2% higher nephropathy testing rate, a 4.7% higher HbA1c testing rate (based on HEDIS methodology) and a 16.6% higher annual well-child HEDIS rate among those choosing Spanish outreach.

Contact Eliza today so we can start the conversation to help you overcome barriers in engaging with your Hispanic members. Email info@elizacorp.com or call 844.343.1441

1 http://commonpurpose.org/knowledge-hub/all-articles/what-is-cultural-intelligence/

 

 

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