A survey of language barriers from the perspective of pediatric oncologists, interpreters, and parents

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2006 Nov;47(6):819-24. doi: 10.1002/pbc.20841.


Background: Oncologists in the US increasingly face the challenge of communicating with non-English speaking parents of children with cancer. This study explores this challenge from the perspectives of a sample of pediatric oncologists, interpreters, and Spanish-speaking parents of children with newly diagnosed leukemia.

Procedure: Thirty-seven oncologists and 17 professional language interpreters based at two non-profit pediatric hospitals in the US were surveyed on the topic of language barriers in pediatric care. Seventeen parents who communicated with their child's oncologist through an interpreter were also surveyed.

Results: All groups expressed considerable concern over the process of communicating across a language barrier. For oncologists, these concerns included the accuracy and completeness of interpretations, complexity of information, and loss of confidence and control over the communication process. For interpreters, they included complexity of information, information overload, and lack of clinician sensitivity toward the cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of limited English proficiency (LEP) families. Parent concerns included difficulties comprehending information and anxiety over the possibility of missing out on important information. All groups provided multiple suggestions for improving communication across a language barrier.

Conclusions: Oncologists, interpreters, and parents expressed considerable concern over the process of communicating across a language barrier. Some of these concerns could be minimized through efforts to boost interpreter accuracy and completeness, including the use of more simple, easy to understand language. Other issues, such as differences in culture and socioeconomic background, warrant consideration of the intercultural knowledge and skills of interpreters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Health Care Surveys*
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Medical Oncology
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pediatrics*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Translating*
  • United States