Language concordance refers to a state in which the language and linguistic style between two parties are in agreement with each other. In medical studies, low language concordance levels have been found to be detrimental to doctor-patient relationships and lead to lower patient satisfaction.

Here we look at the ways in which healthcare providers can achieve language concordance with patients to facilitate effective and positive interaction.

1. Develop multilingual skills

One of the most obvious ways to achieve language concordance with patients is to speak in their language or dialect. This facilitates understanding between patients and doctors, thus enabling doctors to determine the best treatment plan possible.

When the languages used by the patient and doctor are in conflict with each other, the patients’ health could be put at risk. While this might seem like an unlikely problem in Singapore, it is important to consider how the younger generation of doctors and nurses are becoming more ‘westernised’. Many are highly proficient in English, but often less efficient in using their mother tongue such as Mandarin, Tamil or Malay, and their corresponding dialects.

The lack of skills in the use of another language could hamper interaction with elderly patients. As such, it would be a good move for one’s career to polish existing language skills and pick up a new dialect or language applicable in the country.

Some foreign doctors and nurses have successfully learnt Mandarin Chinese or Chinese dialects, in addition to English. This has enabled them to communicate more efficiently with elderly Chinese patients, as they are better able to understand patients’ needs clearly and accurately convey their intentions to patients.

2. Speak at the patient’s level of understanding

The field of medicine is undoubtedly filled with plenty of medical jargon. Therefore, medical professionals need to think of ways to simplify these concepts and practise expressing them in layman’s terms to be better understood by the patient.

This also makes patients feel more comfortable, which opens up opportunities for positive interaction and discussion of their condition. However, one should also be careful not to be too general with their explanations, as the patient may perceive this to be condescending.

3. Accommodate the patient’s linguistic preferences

When a speaker accommodates the listener’s linguistic preferences, the individual immediately becomes more appealing and likeable to the listener. Thus, medical professionals can leverage on this by changing their manner of communication to accommodate their patients’ preferences.

This includes matching one’s accent or word choices with the patient’s. A prominent example of such accommodation takes place between the adult medical professional and the young patient. When speaking to young children, individuals tend to engage in child-directed speech, which includes simpler vocabulary and more variations in intonation and rhythm.

This manner of speech is useful when communicating with children, who develop a preference for such prosodic features at approximately four months of age. Hence, one is more likely to be successful in communicating with young patients, securing their attention and getting them to feel comfortable in one’s presence if child-directed speech is used.

In the field of medicine, medical knowledge and skills are a necessity. However, these skills and knowledge have to be complemented by effective communication, of which one facet is language concordance. This can be achieved through speaking as similarly as one possibly can with patients or by accommodating patients’ linguistic styles and preferences.

With language concordance, communication barriers between patient and medical professionals will be reduced. This consequently creates an environment for building trust, comfort and understanding which will lead to improved efficacy of care and greater patient satisfaction. MIMS

Read more:
The importance of word choices in healthcare – Part 2
Health illiteracy: What are the causes?
Healthcare professionals: 4 non-verbal ways of communication that you should be using with your patients