Communication is a key to success in any therapy session.

The thought of a patient and family who speak a different language may be intimidating to a clinician, but it doesn’t have to be. A little bit of preparation before the session to understand any cultural differences, prepare translated paperwork, and arrange for an interpreter will go a long way. The following tips are meant to make you and your patient feel more comfortable when a language barrier exists.

Use an interpreter

When using an interpreter, speak directly to the patient and their caregiver, not to the interpreter. For example; Inappropriate: Looking at the interpreter and asking, “Can you ask him what his main concern is?” Appropriate: Looking at the patient or caregiver and saying, “ Tell me what your main concern is.” This keeps the focus patient-centered, helps you connect with the patient, and build rapport. Legally, an interpreter should be available in person, via phone, or video chat. Make sure to ppeak slowly and clearly, but do not speak too loudly or over enunciate.

Check for understanding

You should always check for understanding. Never assume that the patient or family has understood you. To ensure you're on the same page, use the teach back method. Have the patient explain back to you and the interpreter in his or her own words, what you've just taught them.

Use written materials

You canranslate all written documents and have them readily available for your patient and their guardians. Homework programs should include pictures that clearly demonstrate exercises to be performed at home, so that even without written words or a translator, your patient knows exacty what to do.

Learn the basics

Learn few basic words or phrases such as hello, how are you, please, thank you, and goodbye (Duolingo is a great app to pick up some basics of a lot of languages). This shows that you care and will help you build rapport with your patient and their family.

Use body language

Communication is not just verbal! Head nodding, hand gestures, facial expressions, eye gazing, touch, and demonstration are universal ways to communicate. Be familiar with culturally inappropriate body language or gestures before the patient and family arrive. 

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