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June 10, 2009

Communicating With Spanish-Speaking Patients—Reply

JAMA. 2009;301(22):2327-2328. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.768

In Reply: Dr Bryan describes differences in Spanish language by region and country of origin. Although this point is valid, and there is some risk that regional differences in Spanish language, colloquialisms, or slang terminology could result in medical interpretation errors, Spanish is one language that can be readily understood by native speakers from any country for which the primary language is Spanish.

In Spanish language communication, as in English or any other language, educational level and literacy will influence the level of understanding; as noted in our article, the prevalence of low health literacy is higher among Spanish speakers (62%) compared with English speakers (46%).1 Trained professional interpreters and true native speakers are able to inquire about slang words and regional differences in terminology; they can otherwise communicate effectively with the patient no matter what region of Latin America or Spain the patient is from. Standard methods have been developed and implemented by researchers for nearly 30 years to reconcile regional differences in use of the Spanish language.2 Furthermore, the Spanish used in national television news programs is reconciled as “broadcast Spanish” to guarantee that the language used is devoid of regional slang or words that have differential meaning by country.

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