Woman looking up and thinking about the questions she has about language access

These Are the Questions Your Staff Have about Language Access

Female language access coordinator presenting to her staff sitting around a large table. She is answering their questions about language access.

Whether you’re creating a new language access plan or revisiting an existing one, someone on your staff probably has questions about language access.

It can be a complex subject. Most organization’s language access plans are unique. They may outline several interpreting modalities (i.e., on-site, phone interpreter services, or video remote interpreting) and when to use them, which can get confusing.

When our team assists large healthcare systems with implementing remote interpreting services, we often hear the same questions come up again and again. They’re often not specific to remote interpreting and are more about language access in general. 

Here are answers to a few of those questions.

Related: How to Create a Realistic Language Access Plan

1. Why can’t people learn to speak English?

Speaking to people in their preferred language aids comprehension and reduces the chance of errors. If you want to connect with and care for someone, you need to be able to speak their language.

Also, English is not the official language of the U.S. There isn’t one. In fact, Dutch, German, French, and many indigenous languages were commonly spoken throughout the original 13 colonies. 

2. Why can’t we rely on family members to communicate?

Bilingual family members and close friends make excellent care advocates, but in most cases, they are not qualified interpreters. 

They also aren’t always neutral while interpreting, and people may feel more comfortable speaking about personal matters when they don’t need to communicate through a friend or family member. 

Professional interpreters have a high proficiency in both English and the target language, but it doesn’t stop there. They have extensive knowledge of medical terminology, are culturally fluent, and are usually trained in the technical aspects of interpreting, like effective note-taking, asking for clarifications, interpreter ethics, and so on.

In addition, if your organization receives federal funding, it must comply with Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Section 1557 prohibits friends or family members from facilitating communications except in emergencies. 

Related: The Final Rule: What You Need to Know about Language Access and Section 1557

3. Why do we have to use an interpreting service?

Professional interpreters help you efficiently and effectively communicate with people who don’t speak English. An interpreter can mean life or death in certain situations, can ensure that patients understand the health information from a clinician (and vice versa), can relay complex information from an insurance provider, and can be the difference between a loyal customer or dissatisfied one.

We think it’s beneficial for language access coordinators to be aware of these questions in advance. We recommend taking some time to think about how you would answer such questions and integrate the answers into your formal language access plans.

When people understand the logic behind a plan, it’s easier for them to follow it. Knowing the whys will help your staff successfully integrate prescribed language access procedures into their normal workflow.

If you want suggestions on engaging your staff about language access and information on how you can set up your own plan, download our Language Access Planning Workbook today!