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An evaluation of a student-led, multilanguage course for Israeli nursing students

A shared language can provide a key to fostering empathy, understanding and tolerance between different cultures. In Israel, where different cultures coexist, it is of paramount importance to use methods that will help to promote this, especially in healthcare, where poor communication can adversely affect nurse–patient relationships. This paper provides an account of an undergraduate course for nursing students which enabled participants to acquire some basic language skills in four languages spoken locally, namely Arabic, Russian, Amharic and Yiddish. A total of 40 students at Zefat Academic College, all fromdiverse cultural backgrounds (Jewish, Arab or Druze) participated in a senior-year undergraduate course on ‘Languages awareness and skills for nurses’. The main objectives of the course were to generate an awareness of the importance of language barriers as impediments to qualitative healthcare, and to improve professional communicationbetween students and patients who differed in terms of their cultural background and language. After an introductory lecture about language as a barrier to health literacy, the students, who all spoke Hebrew, were given the task of teaching their fellow students basic phrases relevant to nurse–patient interactions in one of the four languages. They chose relevant words and phrases, and then divided themselves into four language teaching groups. All of the groups included native speakers of the language to be taught. Each group taught three lessons using experiential learning methods. By the end of the course, most of the students were able to speak many words in the different languages. The student’s written comments on the course were collected and analysed for content, and were categorised. This revealed three main themes, namely language teaching effectiveness, the importance of language for communicating with patients, and language barriers as cultural barriers. In conclusion, strengthening communication skills to include lowering of language barriers was seen as an advantage in caring for culturally diverse patients.

Author(s): Hanna Zafrir, Sara Nissim

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