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Articles and Comment

Webinar summary | Multilingualism in Healthcare


June 2023 | Articles and Comment | Discussion | EALTHY Blog | Healthcare across cultures | Translation and Interpreting | Webinar summary | Webinars 2023

Dr. Emma Brooks, a lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck, University of London presents the partial findings of her ongoing research based on the approach of linguistic ethnography. Using her notes from clinical observations and semi-structured interviews, she describes the experience of multilingual healthcare professionals who had been asked to interpret their medical sessions both in the maternity department and in other departments outside of their specialism.

Dr Brooks highlighted some of the perspectives and concerns of the healthcare professionals. Regarding specialism, a participant said: “In some ways it feels like… a specialism in terms of what you´re able to offer to the people you´re working with and that you´re caring for… just in terms of trust and relationship building, because often in maternity you know you´re meeting someone and all of a sudden you´re with them for the most intense… frightening exciting rollercoaster.” Another participant appreciated the possibility of using other languages rather than English which helped her build a stronger relationship with a patient: “So I started to speak to them in Urdu, and honestly you can just see in their face that relief that they can express themselves to somebody without having to think about what to say you know. There was that connection straightaway.”

Emma also points to the frustrations of healthcare professionals who were called to participate in a medical session just because they speak the same language as the patient. The participants reported feelings such as being used, not appreciated financially or any other way, feeling insecure when interpreting medical conditions outside their specialism, being worried about consequences of potential misinterpretations.

Watch the webinar to find out more about the following issues:

  • The ways in which mediation is used: how creative the participants of the communication process are when bridging the gaps of understanding, how they explain medical terminology in English and the shared language.
  • Coping with the cultural differences: taboo topics and terms in medical communication in the country of patient´s and healthcare´s/interpreter´s origin but which are a commonly used in British culture.
  • The challenges and misunderstandings caused by the lack of medical knowledge of professional interpreters whose services were ordered by a hospital.
  • Recognition of multilingualism by the institutions as a skill, a role which a healthcare professional should be paid for, defining it as a requirement in the recruiting process.


The resources used by Emma:
NHS 2018 guidelines to interpreting & translation
Baraldi & Luppi (2015)
Cox & Maryns (2019)