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Language Barriers

Winter 2000

Hello, Hi, Hola, Yo Homes, Hey, Que pasa?

It's hard to understand what some things mean, especially when it's a word that you have never heard before.

For many of us who speak Spanish or other languages, HIV was a word that we never heard of. If we did hear about HIV and AIDS, we only heard very little and guess what? The information that we got was either incorrect or incomplete. It wasn't really the "right" information. We only get bits and pieces. Can you imagine getting a positive test result for something that you don't fully understand? Then perhaps you look for information to help you understand and all the information that you can get is not in your native language. For you it is in a foreign language. This makes things extremely difficult for those of us who speak English as a second language.

Remember, here in the United States there are people from all over the world and not everyone speaks U.S. English or English at all. Some people may not think that it's right, but it's a fact of life here in the U.S.

... when we talk about the written word, by the time it is published, it is often out dated.
English is a language that many of us learned as a second language. (Many Asain-Pacific Islanders, many Latinas, many Middle Easterners, etc.) It can become a challenge to translate life-prolonging information about HIV disease and the treatments for it into our native languages. So often, crucial information gets "lost in the translation."

There are many things that affect the way information is translated and then processed by the consumer.


Our varying cultures have a direct impact on how we relay and process information, especially information that originates in a "foreign" language.

Our situation is further complicated when we come from cultures that don't talk about things such as sex, sexuality, illness -- let alone Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and especially HIV/AIDS.

Let's talk about English: People from England speak English, from Scotland, from New York, from Louisiana, and from Los Angeles too. Can you truly say that they all speak the same language and have the same culture? For example, try to imagine information being translated into English by the Scottish for people in the Southern United States. Will they be able to relate to the information?

It is very difficult to do a good and thorough job when translating from English to Spanish, knowing that some Spanish speaking individuals may still not be able to decipher the information because of varying cultures.


Please don't take for granted that the values of each individual from a certain culture are the same. Values come from our own families and values can be very different from family to family in all cultures. The values that we learn from our families can affect how we process information in our brain.


So, you can see that there are a lot of things to consider when we try to provide crucial information about survival with HIV disease through translation. We also need to think about the various levels of education. Some people may have limited vocabularies. We have to think about simplifying information.

Another fact is that not every AIDS Service Organization has the funds needed in order to have information properly translated. However, if we truly want to make a difference in the epidemic of HIV, we must try to translate critical information into many different languages.

There are some agencies that do take the time and effort to translate. Translation services work well for verbal presentations, but when we talk about the written word, the fact remains that by the time it is published, it is often outdated. Nevertheless, we need to keep trying, after all, "It's better late than never."

Need for Support

We (infected people) need to continue to find ways to support one another even though we are from vastly different cultures, sexual orientations, and economic backgrounds. In order for all of us to be able to take a step forward in this epidemic, we need to brake all the culture, values, education, and language barriers. Being different is OK. Becoming infected is not.

We can all contribute in different ways. Attend meetings, ask questions, pass on the complete and current information, hold agencies accountable to us. Explore other ways of making a difference; do fact sheets in your own language, do updates, write articles for local newsletters, and always be supportive of people living with HIV.

Women Alive is proud to announce our new Counseling Program

The Counseling Program provides individual, family and couples counseling. Specialty counseling for children affected by AIDS is also available.

Professional Counselors can help by providing extra support and someone to talk with about problems you are experiencing or the day-to-day stresses we all face. If you are interested or just have a question, give us a call. 323.965.1564 #103

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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.