A Genetic Counseling Cultural Competence Toolkit

Multilingual Resources
    Cross Cultural Communication | Health Literacy | Language Access Resources | Interpreters and Translators

This section of the Genetic Counseling Cultural Competence Toolkit features multilingual resources and materials to complement the genetic counseling process. Genetic counseling sessions may incorporate intake forms, brochures, fact sheets, patient letters and other resource materials that rely on written words to help clients understand of genetic concepts, diseases, research and/or testing options. Notwithstanding the underlying challenges posed by limited health literacy that may pertain to any client, many of our clients will benefit from access to documents that are written in their preferred language. Many of the resources we share in this section have been identified through links to other websites, and therefore we cannot vouch for their accuracy. However, we have several suggestions for evaluating multilingual resources.

It is important to consider who developed the materials and for what purpose. Was a fact sheet originally written in English and simply translated into other languages? Who did the translation--Google Translate or a certified medical interpreter at your institution? What was the context for developing the resource? Were individuals from the target culture(s) involved in the translation process?

Research studies have demonstrated the need to be skeptical about computer-generated translations. While convenient, the outcomes may generate errors that can prove to be life-threatening. The article by Iman Sharif and Julia Tse in Pediatrics (April 5, 2010), “Accuracy of Computer-Generated, Spanish-Language Medicine Labels” cites examples of inconsistent and potentially dangerous word translations, especially when the programs used a mix of English/Spanish (Spanglish). For example, the word “once” means “eleven” in Spanish.  A translated prescription label indicating that the medicine should be taken “once a day” may be interpreted by a Spanish-speaking person as “eleven a day.” Translation errors on prescription labels propagate health disparities with populations with limited English proficiency.  

Another concern about computer-generated translations pertains to content that requires more than simple translation due to the cultural contexts. For example, a fact sheet for families on hospice resources in English might state, “It may be helpful to tell your loved one that it’s OK to ‘let go’ because you will be alright.”  However, for this same resource in Spanish it might be appropriate to consider common Latino cultural norms, which would suggest content modification: “It may be helpful to your loved one that it’s OK to ‘let things follow their own course’ because you will be alright whatever happens.” 

Deciding what words and phrases are most appropriate is certainly easier when you know your clients as individuals.  However, genetic counselors may need to rely on existing translated resources.  Rather than simply accepting the language and cultural veracity of these documents, we encourage genetic counselors to seek out and use your institutional medical interpreters and translator services.  These specialists should review and/or translate forms, fact sheets, letters and other documents that you plan to give to your clients.  These specialists can also help you determine if a specific multilingual resource adequately takes into account nuances of language due to the client’s cultural context. 

This is a labor-intensive process, so let us know if there are specific multilingual resources that assist your practice. Send us these resources and links and we will post them here!


American Sign Language:



Multiple Languages:


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Language Health Information Resources

Consumer Health Information in Many Languages, compiled by the National Network of Libraries in Medicine:
Provides links to outside websites that house compilations of resources in multiple target languages. Searchable by language.

RHIN: http://www.rhin.org
The Refugee Health Information Network (RHIN is a national collaborative partnership managed by refugee health professionals whose objective is to provide quality multilingual health information resources for those providing care to resettled refugees and asylees.

EthnoMed: http://ethnomed.org
EthnoMed provides free access to patient education materials and information about numerous language and cultural groups.

Health Information Translations: http://www.healthinfotranslations.com/about.php
This site offers patient information in 17 languages on topics such as disaster preparedness, surgeries, pregnancy and various other subject areas.  

Healthy Roads Media: http://www.healthyroadsmedia.org
This portal houses materials in 18 different languages in many formats, including print materials, audio, multimedia, web video, and mobile video.

MedlinePlus: Health information in Multiple Languages http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/languages/languages.html

MedlinePlus: Spanish

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