Overcoming Communication Difficulties

Communicating with People from Different Cultures

Any successful communication recognises the uniqueness of every culture, every relationship, and every individual – including you.

Some forms of verbal and non-verbal communication are appropriate and others are not appropriate. For instance, some individuals may regard prolonged eye contact as rude. We all have different ways of communicating our fears and needs when we become unwell. Invite the person to tell you about their life experiences, values, and belief systems. Also, ask them how they feel about asking for care and support.

Establish what is realistic for the individual, as well as what is culturally acceptable. Some cultures encourage the use of silence, whereas in others it creates embarrassment or awkwardness. In the French, Spanish, and Eastern European cultures, the presence of silence is a sign of agreement.

Working with an Interpreter or a Bilingual Worker

When an individual does not speak English at all, has limited English, or chooses to communicate their distress in their mother tongue, the best solution is to use a professional interpreter. The choice to use a trained interpreter or a family member must be made by the individual who is experiencing problems. Being able to do so will help the individual to fell that they are in control of the situation.

Language holds and creates the individual’s reality, experience, culture, and world view. A good interpreter will concentrate on accurately conveying equivalent meaning as well as reporting the direct answers to your questions and other responses offered. You should also be aware that the interpreter may bring their own bias to the situation.

Working with a British Sign Language Interpreter for the Deaf

There are very few services available for deaf people with mental health problems, although recently some deaf workers have been trained in mental health first aid.

If no deaf mental health first-aider is available, you may need to use an interpreter. In this case, you should take care to always face the deaf person when speaking and respond as though it is the deaf person speaking to you when the interpreter speaks. Remember that the interpreter is being the deaf person’s voice. Maintain good eye contact and show your feelings through your facial expressions. Deaf people do much of their communication through body language and facial expression, and are therefore skilled at reading feelings.

If no interpreter is available, you can still offer support and concern by showing your willingness to communicate. Deaf people can often lip read and can vocalise using English. Be patient and try hard to understand. Show your concern as you would with anyone in distress and ask the person who you can call for help.

Important Note

If you need to use a pen and paper to ask the person who they would like you to call for help or support, use very simple English.

British Sign Language is a different language to English – a person who was born deaf may not have English as their first language.

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