The effects of a language barrier in a South African district hospital

  • Arina Schlemmer
  • Bob Mash


Background. Communication between health workers and patients at   Hottentots Holland Hospital (HHH) is hindered by staff and patients not  speaking the same language. HHH is a district hospital in the Cape Town  Metropolitan District of the Western Cape where staff mainly speak   Afrikaans or English and a large number of patients mainly Xhosa.

Objectives. The study aimed to explore the effects of this language parrier on health workers and patients at HHH.

Design. Three focus group interviews were held with 21 members of staff and 5 in-depth patient interviews were conducted.

Results. The language barrier was found to interfere with working  efficiently, create uncertainty about the accuracy of interpretation, be  enhanced by a lack of education or training, cause significant ethical  dilemmas, negatively influence the attitudes of patients and staff towards each other, decrease the quality of and satisfaction with care, and cause cross-cultural misunderstandings.

Conclusion. The effects of the language barrier were considerable and  persistent despite an official language policy in the province. The training and employment of professional interpreters as well as teaching of basic Xhosa to staff are recommended.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2078-5135
print ISSN: 0256-9574