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Lost In Translation – Angola Day 16



The baby held in this photo is suffering from pneumonia. I’m in the process of explaining the disease and treatment to her parents, seated, using Portuguese. However, the parents are rural people and don’t understand Angola’s official language. Instead, the pastor to the left is translating into the language of their own Cunene people. Just how much important information is lost in converting to a tongue that has few words for concepts of microorganisms, drug adherence, or respiratory distress?


What’s more, observe closely the body language. The parents are looking at the floor; certainly not at the interpreter nor the physician. Are they being aloof? Disrespectful? Uninterested? Actually, within the culture of Cunene people deliberately avoiding eye contact is a sign of upmost respect. Understandably, assuring comprehension can be difficult to ascertain. Asking questions to test the parent’s understanding is also cumbersome, for respect requires that the parents assure that they understand perfectly and have no questions.


So very much can be lost in communication – whether verbal or nonverbal – between diverse people. A trusted sole who can interpreter both language and culture is an invaluable asset. Patience and healthy curiosity are also precious traits among healthcare professionals who are committed to little being lost in translation.


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