In my language please
A blog post written by Dr. Katrina Erny-Albrecht
A 2019 GeriPal blog noted that the google translation of palliative care into Chinese was ‘Do nothing care’ and hospice as ‘Last minute care’. Of course, I immediately went to check this out for myself, and while it appears Google has since remedied the situation it does highlight the complexity of language. and the importance of context specific meaning.
The 2016 Australian census told us that there were more than 300 languages spoken in our communities. With approximately 6,900 languages in the world that says at least one in every 23 is spoken here. Census also informed us that one in five people speaks a language other than English at home. For a population of 25 million that makes us a truly multicultural society.
It also means that many of our community members do not speak English or it is their second or third language. Having once lived in a country with four official languages of which English was not one, I know well the sense of adventure but also challenge that a new foreign language can pose. Even for those that reach fluency in their adopted language there are times when some ‘in head’ translation is needed and the most appropriate words hard to find. Adults who adopt new languages are known to sometimes revert to their first language with older age. Among bilingual people with dementia, evidence of a complex relationship is emerging. Other cultural aspects can also take on a heightened importance at key points in our lives. Having raised children who played in one language and dreamt in the other the complexity of our relationship with language is very apparent to me. When that relationship centres on our health or end of life care then being unable to process the information provided can magnify our need and with it our anxiety.
There is focus on diversity evident across the palliative care sector arising from changing demography and a growing awareness of human rights, health rights and equity and access. Currently many of our older community members speak European languages. Increasingly we are welcoming to the ranks of senior Australians those speaking Asian languages. In 2021 we launched the new CareSearch Portal with separate centres for community, health professionals and evidence. The diversity of our audience was always at the forefront of our thinking.
Within the Community Centre the Diversity hub is a prominent feature. For people with palliative care needs the focus is on knowing where to access care, finding information that is in your language and mindful of your culture, and actively addressing the barriers to care too often faced. Access is only possible if we know and understand what is available and how it can help. For use by individuals and groups helping to inform their local community the Resources in your language section released this month will hopefully help with access to packages of language appropriate information.
To provide inclusive care our health and care professionals also need to be aware of cultural influences, both theirs and that of the people they support. To help with this a few approaches have been taken in the Diversity hub section for Health professionals. There is a form to use with the Australian Bureau of Statistics census portal as you explore the languages, religions, and country of birth of members in your community. Spoiler alert - a mismatch with the people you see in your practice should prompt reflection as to why. We also begin with the known barriers to connect you with resources to support action. Then there is the Diverse populations section that helps you to explore cultural influences on our responses to pain and palliative care. Each section within the hub aims to increase awareness and help us to appreciate differences in approaches and needs at end of life.
As we move from recognising the needs and barriers faced by people from diverse backgrounds to addressing them, easy access to resources in multiple languages is an important step forward. Bringing cultural nuance to the information provided is also part of the solution.