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What is Culture?

Culture refers to a group of people with shared beliefs, knowledge, ideas, experiences, and maybe language. Culture is not limited to racial and ethnic groups. There can be professional, political, religious, organizational, and social groups. Culture is complex with many layers. It brings together every part of one’s life.

Why is Cultural Understanding Important in Health Care?

Culturally-informed care should be the standard and not the exception in the health-care field. For many minority groups (Asians, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos), language and cultural differences are difficulties in the health care system. Cultural understanding is important in helping families gain access to quality health care services. It is important then that health care providers deliver care that knows, respects, and welcomes these cultural differences (National Institute of Health, 2014).

How is Cultural Understanding Related to Quality Speech-Language Services?

People from different cultures may speak different languages and dialects. As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I am interested in working with children who grow up in a bilingual home. Language is more than the words that come out of one’s mouth. It includes facial cues; social aspects; word meaning; hand and body movements; tones and rhythm. These are all highly influenced by one’s culture. For example, Asian children are told that it is rude to make eye-contact with an adult. But Americans think eye contact is a sign of attention and respect (Cheng, 1991). It is important that SLPs understand their client’s background in order to make correct diagnoses, and to provide appropriate treatment.

How Can We Be Culturally and Linguistically Sensitive?

  1. Learn more about the local community that you serve. Cultural understanding does not mean that you need to be a fluent speaker of the language. Research the local community’s religions, beliefs, lifestyles, languages, traditions, etc. This knowledge will help you provide culturally informed care.
  2. Use simple terms. Even if the person appears to speak and understand English well, it is always best to use simple language. Unclear or high-level words are hard to translate and the meaning can get lost. For example, instead of “his scores are low compared to the norm” you can simply and clearly say “his scores are low compared to other kids his age”.
  3. Work with interpreters to translate your websites, pamphlets and flyers. You will have great visual aids to use and refer to when counseling individuals. Most importantly, your patients and clients will now have easy access to these educational resources!

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