Addressing Language Barriers Through New Media

Content From: Garth Graham, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: March 22, 20112 min read


A recent blog post talked about AIDSinfo, the National Library of Medicine’s online resource recently released as a mobile app. At the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH) we have another useful new media tool—a translation widget (English-Spanish) of common HIV/AIDS-related terminology.

Limited English language skills can hamper an individual’s access to health information and services. But the language barrier can also be a burden for some English-speaking health professionals who provide care and resources to speakers of other languages. The HIV/AIDS Prevention Bilingual Glossary (HPBG) was designed with this idea in mind—to provide linguistic support to people and organizations working with the Latino/Hispanic community in the US, a group that experiences higher rates of HIV/AIDS compared to the general population.

Launched last year after a two-year collaborative effort between partner groups, the glossary is unique in that it includes the most commonly used words and phrases that appear in public health and HIV/AIDS prevention research and practice, including slang words. So far, the glossary holds approximately 1,080 terms but the list may grow as the site gets updated annually.

The widget is easy to use. Type an English word or phrase in the search prompt, and the application returns the Spanish language equivalent and vice-versa. A tag cloud lists commonly searched terms and a right-hand sidebar has information on acronyms, resources as well as a widget code for copying the glossary for placement and use on any other website. There is even a feedback mechanism that allows the user to rate a translation’s accuracy and suggest alternatives.

While the initial idea was to help healthcare professionals break the language barrier, the application’s popularity has extended to consumers as well. In February 2011, the HPBG received 16,000 page views and was the second most visited section on the OMH website. Users—from consumers and healthcare providers to policymakers and even translators—have praised the tool for expanding the discussion around HIV/AIDS to more communities.

It was easy for us to embed the glossary on this page. Check out the glossary and add the widget to your website or blog.