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Language and culture are closely woven together, and these language barriers and cultural misunderstandings are two common issues that contribute to poor health outcomes and readmission rates. A culturally competent healthcare system can help improve quality of care and patient experience.

What is cultural competence?

Cultural competence refers to how healthcare providers can meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients to help eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities.

The CDC recommends using the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards to help your organization to analyze how your providers interact and communicate with your limited-English proficient (LEP) patients and come up with a plan to handle these cultural and linguistic differences.

There are 15 CLAS Standards – we’re going to focus on three

Principal Standard

  1. Provide effective, equitable, understandable, and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy, and other communication needs.

Communication and Language Assistance

  1. Offer language assistance to individuals who have limited English proficiency and/or other communication needs, at no cost to them, to facilitate timely access to all health care and services.
  2. Provide easy-to-understand print and multimedia materials and signage in the languages commonly used by the populations in the service area.


The first step to providing quality, culturally competent care is to invite a professional interpreter or translator into the mix. These professionals are knowledgeable and trained to act as cultural brokers to help you discuss prevention, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment with your LEP patient.

Building cultural competence via interpreting

“Quality interpreting reflects cultural terms, expressions, and idioms that have bearing on the meaning of the content. Interpreting must capture any expressions or nuances in meaning to maintain the impact of the original message.”


CyraCom employee interpreters undergo extensive interpreter training, where they learn how to become cultural brokers. As cultural brokers, interpreters explain and resolve any misunderstandings between the English speaker and LEP person.

Our interpreters also learn how to be sensitive and consider participants’ cultures throughout the session. They pay close attention to when a cultural misunderstanding may cause miscommunication. For example, they are taught to listen for “untranslatables,” which are concepts that have no absolute interpretation from one language to another. The interpreter will also alert the providers should the LEP person seem to have little to no experience in a Western medical environment.

Building cultural competence via translated materials

Quality translating must reflect cultural terms, expressions, and idioms that have bearing on the meaning of the content. A translation must capture any expression or nuances in meaning to maintain the impact of the original message.”


Professional translators have the cultural knowledge and nuanced understanding of language that allows them to translate text while incorporating proper context, tone, and style. Translators are uniquely able to retain the intent and meaning of the source text while allowing the translated text to be accessible to a specific audience.

This is why it’s important to use real, human linguists to translate your written materials. Machine translation sometimes overlooks nuances in the text, which may cause your intended audience to find your content culturally inappropriate or offensive. Recently, several major organizations received international news coverage due to severe errors in MT translations.

Human translators understand the cultural nuances of your audience and can localize content to avoid misinterpretation or cultural offense. Localization is more than just simple translation. For example, CyraCom translators analyze the text and reframe the messaging, imagery, and layout to suit the target culture, so it appears as if you created the written materials specifically for your non-English audiences.

Interested in learning more?

Check out our Healthcare page for more information on how CyraCom’s suite of language services is the right choice for your organization.



Regina Wetzel

Regina Wetzel

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in how language works and translation services.