He was worried that people couldn’t understand what he needed. His English was limited. Most of our staff’s Chinese was much more limited. Not an uncommon situation. We had previously prepared picture cards for other patients. Simple pictures with words in various languages for symptoms such as pain, breathlessness and nausea. A simple low-tech form of communication. Apps such as Google Translate can help when you are desperate but they are limited. What is required is Google Interpret. Not just the words but interpretation within a cultural context as well. The AIs are not quite there yet, soon come.
In the meantime, we try our best with second languages. A lot of people from China can speak Mandarin which is the government proscribed National Language. Mandarin is often their second language, with the language that their parents used with them at home being their first language.
Mandarin was my first language as a child but once I went to school it was shunted off to the side and English dominated. Many years later I find myself often having to use my now second language, Mandarin, in clinical interactions. Mandarin often is the second language of the person I’m dealing with. We both end up speaking our common second language. It’s not perfect, it’s not 100% fluent for either of us. It does make a difference and is much better than not being able to communicate at all.
The basic human connection. I hear and understand you. You hear and understand me. I can acknowledge your fears and needs. I want to do something about them. We will help you out. We are all here to help you, and to support your family. We’ll get you through this.