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Isn’t English Enough For International Healthcare?

English is today the dominate language of international affairs, as well as the official language of some twenty nations. Even in countries where English is not commonly spoken, translation is usually readily available. These facts frequently tempt health professions to falsely believe their ability to speak English will guarantee clear communication.


“Completely untrue,” says Nicholas Comninellis, President of INMED. For three years Dr. Comninellis provided medical care in Africa & China. “Language is an expression of the beliefs and lifestyles of particular cultures, and identical words or phrases may have different meanings within these distinct cultures. If we do not understand these facts we may actually worsen people’s health rather than helping. For example, we instruct HIV-positive people in North America to not pass on their disease, meaning that they should not have intimate contacts. People in eastern Africa have also been taught using the same words to not pass on their disease. Yet many local persons have misinterpreted this message to mean that they actually should have intimate relations, because in their culture if they pass on an object, such as HIV, they themselves will no longer possess it. We must be very careful when speaking English in a different culture to assure that we are accurately understood.”


“Better yet,” continues Dr. Comninellis, “where English is not commonly spoken we do well to hire a tutor and learn the local language. One of the most immediate advantages is the sense of well-being and security that results. It is also creates insight into the culture of the people we wish to serve. But the most persuasive reason to learn a local language for the symbolic significance. It communicates both respect for national people and our personal commitment to building relations with them.”


Learn more about crossing cultures, mastering language and their impact on health by attending the Exploring Medical Missions Conference. These subjects are also covered in the INMED International Medicine Course, now available in affordable paperback.

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