COVID-19 may be “coronavirus” in every language, but how we, as a global community, address it requires healthcare professionals who speak the native languages of the patients they care for and the diverse communities they work in. Language proficiency has become a fundamental skill for healthcare teams charged with communicating and sharing coronavirus precautions more effectively. How is your organization evaluating the language proficiency level or your multilingual employees?

While the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a household term these days, the provision of culturally and linguistically competent patient care is a challenge faced by healthcare professionals and agencies alike. For example, healthcare workers in diverse communities must quickly learn how the coronavirus spreads, how to protect themselves, how to help people prevent infection, how to care for patients that present symptoms, and so on. Considering that there have been confirmed cases in over 148 countries (UNifeed, 2020), all composed of multiple cultures, languages, and norms, it is easy to see how complicated the situation becomes for healthcare organizations when faced with communicating critical information to their multilingual patient communities.

Although English is the primary language of communication in the United States, there is a critical need and urgency for linguistically appropriate ways to communicate information regarding this pandemic; it literally has become a matter of life and death. The bottom line is that this crisis requires us to communicate on a global scale. Currently, basic vetted public information about coronavirus can be found in fifteen languages (Washington State Department of Health, 2020), including Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese. However, the need for communicating this information accurately and effectively is much greater than just making it available in fifteen languages on the Internet or in printed materials!

Healthcare providers are asking themselves: Do we have employees on staff who can help us communicate in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner to meet the needs of our patients? With a global literacy rate of approximately 86% (meaning 14% illiteracy rate; Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2018) varying by country, literacy levels in reading, writing, and comprehension can have an impact on the level of readiness to combat coronavirus.

To add to the complexity of the situation, “health literacy” levels are low. “Health literacy,” as defined by the Institute of Medicine’s report Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion, is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions” (National Network of Libraries of Medicine, n.d.). According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), only 12% of U.S. adults scored in the highest healthcare literacy proficiency levels (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).

Based on the data, to truly ensure that culturally diverse people, communities, and countries can enhance their understanding of what is involved in preventing and treating the coronavirus disease, it essentially comes down to healthcare professionals who can communicate in languages other than English.

Since 1992, Language Testing International (LTI), a Samsung company, has been a leader in the development of language proficiency testing for more than 120 languages, globally. In partnership with the ACTFL, we proudly offer our healthcare partners valid and reliable reading, writing, speaking, and listening tests. Each test is designed to properly determine the specific proficiency level of an individual and ultimately to provide a valid and defensible language credential.

LTI works closely with your human resources department to identify the appropriate level of language proficiency required for the position at hand. Once your needs have been identified, we will help you qualify the right candidates with the language skills needed to be successful.

Contact us today for a free consultation on best practices for hiring multilingual talent!



National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). What is PIAAC?

National Network of Libraries of Medicine. (n.d.). Health literacy.

Roser, M., & Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2018). Literacy.

UNifeed. (2020). WHO/COVID-19 update.

Washington State Department of Health. (2020). Novel coronavirus fact sheet.



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