What's the best way to handle language barriers?

By 
Dana Moran, Managing Editor

hable espanol spanish

Q: What’s the best way of handling possible communication barriers?

A: It’s important to give all employees the tools they need to succeed at their jobs, says Arthur Bretton, corporate director of foodservices for Catholic Health Services of Long Island. When it comes to non-native English speakers, whom he estimates comprise about 5-6 percent of his overall staff, that can mean taking a few extra steps to ensure everyone is on the same page. Bretton has translated written tests into Spanish, and signed up for Rosetta Stone courses to “get some inkling on what our staff is talking about.” “I think anyone who’s in charge of people who aren’t able to speak English well, they need to look outside themselves to improve their understanding of that culture and that language,” says Bretton, whose facility also provides menu translation for patients and staff.

The cultural part of that barrier is as important to consider as language, he adds, recalling an incident at a previous facility when he encountered a worker exiting the bathroom wearing rubber gloves. When Bretton asked what the man was doing, he replied that he had washed his hands. “He didn’t understand that you couldn’t do it with your gloves on,” Bretton says. “In today’s health care, a lot of times the labor force is very short-staffed, so not all the time do we have the ability to go through and make sure everybody understands everything. They slip through the cracks, and that’s where we have our problems.”

Bretton himself combats this education gap by having each staff member complete training and receive a food handler’s certificate. Those who didn’t understand the material were able to work with an individual instructor. “It just gives them such a boost of self-confidence,” he says.

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