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
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 variables 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 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 tutoringto focus on each
student’s unique health issuesand 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.