Effective Cross-Cultural Communication and Health Literacy

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Communicating effectively across cultures is important for public health professionals. People’s ideas about health and illness can vary by cultural group and sub-group, and can affect which health literacy skills are considered culturally necessary. When communicating with diverse cultural groups, public health professionals should be aware of and adjust for linguistic differences, beliefs, values, customs, and behaviors that can affect if the audience receives your intended message.

Here are some tips to make sure you and your materials are well understood:

  • Try not to treat culture as a negative or barrier that must be overcome. Your cultural background may not be the same as your audience’s, but you can learn about and adjust for language, beliefs, and customs as you would for other factors, such as age or gender, that might affect how the audience interprets the messages. 
  • If your messages aren’t in the audience’s preferred language, consider if interpretation of oral information, translation of written materials, or a complete redesign to address cultural differences is necessary.
  • Adapt messages and materials for the literacy and numeracy skills people have in their preferred language.
  • Refer to the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards as you plan your communication strategy.

To read more about the role of culture in health literacy, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/culture.html

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