Language Proficiency: A Matter of Life and Death

doctors running patient in bedLet’s face it, there is a strong and growing demand for multilingual talent as a natural result of the evolving demographic shifts in the United States. According to a study by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), Making Languages Our Business: Addressing Foreign Language Demand Among U.S. Employers, “American employers are operating in an increasingly multilingual and multicultural economy in which 65 million U.S. residents speak a language other than English (40 percent with limited or no English proficiency) and 96 percent of the world’s consumers and two-thirds of its purchasing power reside outside U.S. borders.” However, effective communication is likely to be most critical in the healthcare sector given that language proficiency (or lack thereof) could truly influence and determine the level of care provided to patients with limited English proficiency.

The cultural and linguistic competences of physicians, nurses, and medical teams have a tremendous impact on the level and quality of care that advances health equity and eliminates disparities for a diverse patient population, their families, and the community. An article in BMC Health Services Research entitled “Overcoming Language Barriers in Healthcare: A Protocol for Investigating Safe and Effective Communication When Patients or Clinicians Use a Second Language” states that there is an increase in the number of healthcare professionals whose first language is not the majority language in their country, and also a growing population of patients using healthcare systems where they do not share a first language with their practitioner (Meuter, Gallois, Segalowitz, Ryder, & Hocking, 2015). This represents a major communication barrier when conveying and understanding important healthcare information, it could also represent a safety hazard if left unaddressed, and it is happening all over the world.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (n.d.) challenges the healthcare sector, its leadership, and human resources professionals to establish policies, practices, and training that provide effective, equitable, understandable, and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy, and other communication needs. Therefore, being intentional in your recruitment, promotion, and support of a culturally and linguistically diverse workforce requires investing in its professional development and credentialing. One way to ensure that your team members are proficient in another language is to assess their speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills of their secondary and subsequent languages.

Still not convinced?

In a study conducted to determine whether hospitals measured up the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards, participants reported the following (Diamond, Wilson-Stronks, & Jacobs, 2010):

• Only 13% of hospitals met all four of the language-related CLAS Standards.
• 19% of the hospitals in the study met none.
• Most hospitals reported using family members and untrained staff as interpreters in the care of linguistically diverse patients, posing a threat to safe healthcare practices and best standards in care.

Where does your healthcare organization measure up regarding the CLAS Standards?

Is your staff culturally and linguistically prepared to address the needs of a growing pool of diverse patients?

Certify your healthcare team today by contacting Language Testing International (LTI).

LTI administers language assessments to hundreds of thousands of candidates every year, and is one of the largest and most respected foreign language proficiency test providers in the world. We offer the highest level of client service as well as convenient online test scheduling and reporting over secure client networks.

Based on ACTFL’s rigorous test development research, standards, and best practices, our testing program and ratings have become a standard measure of language proficiency in the U.S for the past thirty years.

LTI provides valid and reliable reading, writing, speaking, and listening tests for our corporate clients in over 60 countries and 120 languages.

Learn more about our assessments here.

Contact us to get started!



American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). (May 21, 2019). Making Languages Our Business: Addressing Foreign Language Demand Among U.S. Employers. Retrieved from

Diamond, L., Wilson-Stronks, A., & Jacobs, E. (2010). Do hospitals measure up to the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Standards? Medical Care, 48(12), 1080–1087.

Meuter, R. F. I., Gallois, C., Segalowitz, N. S., Ryder, A. G., & Hocking, J. (2015). Overcoming language barriers in healthcare: A protocol for investigating safe and effective communication when patients or clinicians use a second language. BMC Health Services Research, 15(371), 1–5. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. (n.d.). The National CLAS Standards. Retrieved from

Language and Beyond

stock-vector-demographic-usa-with-alaska-map-abstraction-people-color-mosaic-usa-with-alaska-map-of-personsAs customer demographics change, companies and hiring managers need to look closer at language and culture as part of the customer service experience. Language proficiency is an indicator of an individual’s ability not only to connect with a customer, but also be able to identify cultural nuances in a shared language that would create trust and customer retention.

In customer service there is always a script aligned with the introduction, Q&A, and closing that is part of the employees training. While scripting helps to maintain consistency, how that script is translated has an effect on the customers who are receiving the information. Translations are affected by the language competency of the translator or interpreter and their cultural experiences and awareness. Customers are influenced by their language competency, use of language variations (i.e.: slang), and their cultural background. When a translated script is presented to a customer, how the script language is constructed, along with the customer’s language proficiency and cultural background, has an effect on that customer’s acceptance or declination of the information (Clute Journals, 2009). Having employees who are certified in speaking and writing in a target language creates an advantage in customer service for multicultural customers in the following ways:

· Having a high level of language proficiency allows for the representative to nuance his or her conversation to meet the needs of the customer’s preferred mode of communication (i.e. formal, informal, dialect specific speech).
· With language proficiency comes experience. A representative who can communicate effectively can also identify idiosyncrasies in the conversation which allow him or her to change direction and support the customer in the way they need.
· Language proficiency aligns with cultural awareness. When representatives are proficient in a particular language, they bring with them their experiences, culture, and past interactions with others that represent the tapestry of that particular language. For example, Spanish is a commonly spoken language. However, there are cultural differences between Castilian Spanish, Caribbean spoken Spanish, and Central and South American Spanish that do affect how people with a similar language may interpret a conversation. Representatives that demonstrate high levels of proficiency in language may also have a greater degree of experience in multicultural speech across a particular language that allows him or her to communicate more effectively.

As we continue to globalize in all human interactions, taking into account language proficiency and cultural awareness is imperative in continuing to meet the promises made to customers in effective, efficient, and supportive customer service.

The Importance of Communication in Light of the COVID-19 Outbreak

stock-photo-side-close-view-of-female-doctor-specialist-with-face-mask-holding-buccal-cotton-swab-and-test-tubeThe Importance of Communication in Light of the Coronavirus Outbreak

We’re in the midst of a global health emergency. As the Coronavirus continues to spread, healthcare providers can expect to see an increase in the number of patients with limited English proficiency. How can healthcare organizations best be prepared to serve everyone in need of assistance?

Preparing for Public Emergency

Healthcare providers already have plenty of patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). However, with the current public health concerns and the expected volume of people being affected, they’ll need to be prepared for an increase in patients who need varying levels of language services, which means making sure that they have all the appropriate resources in place to handle the task at hand.

Certified multilingual healthcare professionals are imperative when addressing LEP and patient communication, otherwise the quality of care provided suffers. The language skills your organization needs could mean hiring new staff, or it’s quite likely you already have several multilingual speakers on your team. The real question is who is qualified to deal with today’s communication needs.

In the case of a public health emergency, it’s important to have all hands on deck. Multilingual employees can be an indispensable asset when their language proficiency has been confirmed by a valid and reliable language assessment.

Language testing administered by LTI allows you to measure a multilingual person’s proficiency in speaking, writing, reading, and listening in a reliable and legally defensible manner. This is essential in the healthcare environment, and even more so when dealing with the effects of the pandemic we are currently facing. All communication must be accurate and clear between patients and providers to avoid any confusion that could open the door to miscommunication, medical mistakes, malpractice suits, or worse yet, patient suffering.

Every health care professional in need of language services should be able to quickly and with confidence connect to professional, vetted, and verified language support services to address patient communication. Particularly in cases of COVID-19, all patients and their families should have the right to equitable access to healthcare, regardless of the language they speak.

Certified Language Skills: A Pathway to Foreign Language Incentive Pay

stock-photo-company-leader-giving-money-bonus-in-paper-envelope-to-happy-smiling-office-worker-congratulatingCertified Language Skills: A Pathway to Foreign Language Incentive Pay (FLIP)

Ever wonder if your proficiency in a language other than English could increase your income potential? The answer is absolutely, 100%, YES! A recent report by ACTFL, entitled “Making Language Our Business,” unveiled that the demand for foreign language skills is greater than ever before for U.S. employers. Whether it is in the boardroom, in the field, with customers and partners, or on social media, companies today are increasingly more likely to conduct business in a language other than English.

However, one of every three U.S. employers reports a foreign language skills gap when asked if their employees are able to meet their multilingual needs. In addition, nearly 25% of employers acknowledge losing or being unable to pursue a business opportunity due to shortcomings in language skills. That’s where your multilingual skills can come in handy, and companies are willing to pay an extra premium to put your language proficiency to work for their benefit.

Employer compensation salary incentives that recognize and compensate multilingual workers for their language skills are called Foreign Language Incentive Pay (FLIP) programs. FLIP can be disbursed as a one-time bonus or paid in the form of a higher salary. To get an idea of how organizations may compensate their employees, you can check out the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) FLIP program and the foreign language proficiency bonus established for U.S. military members.

According to the above ACTFL study, the industries that rely the most on a multilingual workforce are Hospitality & Travel, Healthcare & Social Assistance, Educational Services, Trade, Construction, Professional & Technical Services, and Manufacturing. The following is a list of the top languages needed and the percentage of U.S. employers who rely on them most:

-Spanish (85%)
-Chinese (34%)
-French (22%)
-Japanese (17%)

Language proficiency is a valuable asset that employees can bring to the workplace, and employers are willing to pay for it. With Language Testing International (LTI), you can certify your language skills, helping you boost your marketability and thrive in an increasingly global economy. Assessments for speaking, writing, listening, and/or reading, each about a half-hour in length, can be taken from the convenience of a computer or laptop at home or at work. Once you take your language test and receive your certification, which includes your level of language proficiency, you can share your credentials with your employer, ask to participate in their FLIP program, and add it to your professional profile or resume.

Stand out from the crowd, get language certified!