Principle 3: Use plain language that is culturally relevant.

Principle 3: Use plain language that is culturally relevant.
  • When communicating with members of the public, avoid excessive use of technical language, jargon, and acronyms, which can keep vital information away from people who may benefit most from having the information. Local partners and subject-matter experts are likely to understand technical language, jargon, and acronyms, but ensure that mutual understanding and definitions are established.
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  • Work with community members, leaders, and population-specific experts to co-develop, translate, and validate technical information into understandable communication products and interactions (e.g., presentations, trainings, workshops).
    • If materials are not initially created in the preferred language of the intended audience, all materials should be translated into the audience’s preferred language(s)/dialect(s). Ideally, translated material should be reviewed by members of the intended audience. Doing so helps ensure that correct languages, dialects, terms, and cultural cues are used. It is possible that one word may have distinct meanings or connotations in geographically proximal but culturally distinct communities.
    • Whenever possible, train native speakers to be the lead facilitators of trainings/workshops, rather than relying on live translation of the material or discussion.
    • Be flexible with word choice, learn about the concepts that do not translate easily, and incorporate the richness of local languages to convey your message more effectively and appropriately.
    • If names are needed to illustrate a point, use culturally relevant names. For example, use the name ‘Faly’ instead of ‘Joe’ when communicating with people whose primary language is Malagasy.
    • Identify opportunities for audiences to provide feedback and use collected feedback to update content and methods.
    • Especially for materials translated by a third-party company, set aside time to confirm/test with the local audience whether the translations used are interpreted as intended. Formal vocabulary that is often used by translation companies may be unfamiliar in the local context, making it harder for the community to accurately understand research questions and communication materials as the researcher/communicator intended.
  • Regardless of the means or method of communication, insufficient consideration of culture may unintentionally result in misinformation, errors, confusion, or loss of credibility. Engage and collaborate with local communities and experts to develop and test materials and messages. Proactively work with local partners to check materials for the following:
    • Could any language/graphic be offensive or stereotypic of the cultural or religious traditions, practices, or beliefs of the intended audience?
    • Could any language/graphic be confusing, misleading, or have a different meaning for the intended audience? For example, if abstract language or images are used, will the audience interpret them as intended?
    • Does any language/graphic not reflect the current lifestyle or look of the intended audience, or the places where they live, work, or worship? Are there any stereotypes based on gender?
    • Are any health recommendations inappropriate/unfeasible for the social (including gender), economic, cultural, or religious context of the intended audience?
    • Does the communication product/activity include an opportunity for the intended audience to seek additional information using their preferred language and method of receiving information? For example, contact information, toll-free numbers, references and resources, web links, address of a reputable local health organization that receives visitors.
Page last reviewed: August 8, 2022
Content source: Global Health