Health Literacy for Non-Native English Speakers
It is well-documented that non-native English speakers have lower levels of health literacy, which in turn puts them at greater risk of serious health problems. This not only creates health disparities but can also place a financial burden on society. Populations with low health literacy experience more hospital visits, longer hospital stays and higher health care costs.
Those with limited English proficiency are less likely to visit health care facilities for treatment or preventative care. They are more likely to be non-compliant with medications and are more frequently dissatisfied in their relationship with health care providers. As expected, they have difficulty understanding information from health education campaigns and programs intended for the general public.
While limited language proficiency is a major factor in poor health literacy, there are other variable that can compromise this knowledge. Language and communication skills can clearly influence health literacy, but so can socioeconomic status, cultural background and biases, and past experienced with health care providers and systems.
Since communication, cultural norms and health are closely linked, providing a health literacy program for limited English speakers using an English as a Second Language (ESL) approach is an effective method of increasing health literacy while improving English proficiency, understanding cultural differences and gaining self-advocacy skills.
TEACH is currently developing a health literacy program that combines culturally-sensitive classroom experience with one-on-one tutoring to focus on each student’s unique health issues and those of their families. In addition, native English speakers would be available to accompany learners to health care appointments not to translate, but to ensure that information is communicated in a way and at a language level appropriate to the learner.