Public Lecture Discusses Challenges in Treating Multilingual Communities
The challenge for South African and United States health care academics of training graduates to provide health care to multilingual societies, was debated at a recent UKZN public lecture.
According to academics in the discussion, the main challenge was that while the healthcare curriculum did produce competent graduates for healthcare intervention, there were often communication barriers when treating patients who spoke foreign languages.
There was a focus on Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) which is a healthcare profession concerned with the field of communication. It serves to rehabilitate people with disorders of communication as well as to prevent communication disorders.
Audiology Academic Leader, Dr Neethie Joseph, said even with their focus on communication and considering that with 11 official languages it was expected that South African SLPs would face immense challenges when treating patients, UKZN was a step ahead as its curriculum includes a compulsory course in isiZulu as well as a semester of learning sign language.
The lecture was delivered by US SLP couple, Professor Alejandro Brice and his wife, Dr Roanne Brice, who said their graduates often needed bilingual skills to address either Latin, French or Spanish-speaking populations.
Brice said with the immigration patterns worldwide, there were people with different languages, cultures and value systems. The problem therefore extended not only to language but cultural barriers when SLPs treated patients.
The public lecture was titled: “Multilingualism from a US perspective. Society, Education, and Healthcare”.
Brice, whose mother tongue is Spanish, spoke about the challenges he faced having to adjust to being taught in English when his family moved to the US. Beyond this, Americans spoke a variety of languages and it occurred to him that health care curricula needed to produce graduates who could conquer communication barriers in the future.
The public lecture was an opportunity for academics to discuss possible ways forward in health sciences education especially in health care communication.
Academic Leader for Research in the School of Health Sciences at UKZN, Professor Mershen Pillay, thanked the Brices for illuminating why all healthcare workers needed to be skilled at negotiating cultural and linguistic factors.
‘Importantly, they highlighted how people with communication disorders because of acquired illnesses due to, for example, cerebral vascular accidents (strokes) or developmental delays, are especially vulnerable when you consider that health care workers need to negotiate not only language difference but also their patients’ ability to understand others or even to express themselves,’ Pillay said.