Check materials for cultural accuracy

Verbatim translation not always appropriate

Written educational materials printed in foreign languages, such as Chinese or Spanish, are not always the best tools for teaching. That’s because they may have been translated word for word, and the meaning has been lost in the translation, explains Sabrina Kurtz, MEd, health education and adult literacy project director at World Education in Boston.

Assess educational materials for cultural appropriateness before purchasing them, she advises.

Following are a few questions you might ask when having material reviewed for purchase:

• Is the information accurate and up-to-date?

• Is the language the right dialect?

• Is the material written at the right literacy level?

• Do illustrations and graphics reflect your patient group, and are they culturally sensitive?

If the piece meets all your criteria, give it to professionals who serve your target group. Finally, give it to members of your target community, and ask them to review it, says Kurtz.

When developing materials for a specific culture, use a professional translator.

"Allow the translator to use a non-literal translation rather than word for word, so he or she can draw upon idioms and expressions to express concepts and ideas," says Kurtz.

Always have the material translated back into English by a second professional to make sure the information has been accurately translated, advises Kurtz.

Patient education managers can find translators in the yellow pages of their local telephone directory. Ask for a résumé, examples of their work, and references to verify experience, says Kurtz. Also, contact university medical centers to find translators.

[For more information on translating written materials, contact:

Sabrina Kurtz, MEd, Health Education and Adult Literacy Project Director, World Education, 44 Farnsworth St., Boston, MA 02210-1211. Telephone: (617) 482-9485. Fax: (617) 483-0617. E-mail:]