Closing the Communication Gap on COVID-19

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!

 

References

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.

 

 

Leverage Your Credit Union’s Language Skills

As our communities become more diverse and connected to the global commerce, credit unions will need to ensure they leverage their language skills to remain competitive. Languages are not a “nice-to-have” skill but an absolute necessity for succeeding in diverse markets and reducing risks associated with language miscommunication. Languages will be among the most important skills to develop for many credit unions in our changing economy.

While the United States has historically focused on just speaking English, multilingualism is growing rapidly. From 1980 to 2018, the percentage of multilingual Americans nearly doubled from about 10.68% to about 20.55%. One factor that could explain this is that the United States is generally becoming more diverse. For example, since 2000, more than 109 American counties have become majority non-White. Another potential explanation is the realization that multilingualism, even if English is one’s native language, brings enormous benefits to an ever increasingly globalized economy. The New American Economy think tank produced a study showing that demand for multilingual workers has more than doubled in five years, including for both low- and high-skill positions. Studies in Europe have illustrated the macroeconomic impacts of speaking foreign languages. Switzerland estimates that 10% of its gross domestic product (GDP) is generated from its multilingual skills, while the United Kingdom estimates that a lack of multilingual skills has cost them over 3.5% of its GDP.

Credit unions are perfect examples of institutions that need to develop language skills. They offer complex products and services to consumers to help them achieve their financial goals, and they are focused on serving their communities and members, not shareholders. As our communities become more linguistically diverse, credit unions need to be able to effectively communicate their value in the languages spoken by their members. The large banking institutions understand the value of languages, as the New American Economy report showed that more than a third of Bank of America’s job postings online required foreign languages skills.

There are enormous benefits for credit unions to reach into multilingual markets. I grew up in a majority Latino community, and both of my parents are Latin American immigrants whose first language is Spanish. Firms that could not effectively communicate their value or serve their customers in Spanish did not do well in my community. Immigrant communities in general are underserved by financial institutions. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reports in 2017 that Latino, African American, and immigrant communities have higher percentages of members being unbanked or underbanked than the overall American population. As the spending power of these communities grows, these markets will only become more lucrative for credit unions.

Ineffective language skills are a major risk to firms and credit unions. The United States Committee on Economic Development estimates language and cultural misunderstandings cost American businesses over $2 billion dollars per year. Due to the complex nature of financial products and services, and the potential detriment they can cause if mismanaged, financial institutions have been held accountable for not providing adequate language services to those who don’t speak English. Wells Fargo was accused of not providing Spanish-speaking loan officers and taking advantage of Spanish-speaking borrowers by steering them to more expensive and higher risk loans.

So how do credit unions effectively leverage their language skills to achieve the benefits mentioned above? Although credit unions can contract for translating services, it is often an expensive option that may not provide the flexibility credit unions need. Instead, credit unions should hire multilingual staff to serve their customers who don’t speak English. How do you ensure that your staff is proficient enough in language to communicate important and complex product information and services? A valid and reliable language proficiency credential from Language Testing International (LTI) will guarantee that candidates have undergone the most rigorous language testing and assessment in the industry. LTI offers language certifications developed by ACTFL that are widely trusted, recognized, and accepted everywhere.

Leveraging language skills will benefit credit unions by being better able to serve their customers, grow into multilingual markets, and reduce their language communication risks. Credit unions should not ignore the importance of language skills if they don’t want to be left behind by their competition.

About Language Testing International

Since 1992, Language Testing International (LTI), a Samsung company, has been the leader in the development of language proficiency testing for more than 120 languages, globally. In partnership with ACTFL, we proudly offer our corporate clients 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.

From Fortune 500 corporations to small and midsize companies, LTI works closely with your human resources department to identify the appropriate level of language proficiency required for the position you are looking to fill. 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!

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 in their second 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!

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References

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 https://www.leadwithlanguages.org/wp-content/uploads/MakingLanguagesOurBusiness_FullReport.pdf

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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12913-015-1024-8

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. (n.d.). The National CLAS Standards. Retrieved from https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=2&lvlid=53

Language and Beyond

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As 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 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 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 translators or interpreters 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 representatives to nuance their 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 that allow him or her to change direction and support customers the way they need to be supported.
  • 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 Spanish, and Central and South American Spanish, for example, that do affect how people with a similar language background may interpret a conversation. Representatives that demonstrate high levels of proficiency in a language may also have a greater degree of experience in multicultural speech across a particular language that allows them 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.