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Traduttore, Traditore

Daniel J. Fink, MD
JAMA. 1986;255(19):2601. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370190084017.
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To the Editor.—  I would like to share some thoughts on cross-cultural communication1 based on my experiences caring for Spanish-speaking and Japanese-speaking patients in east Los Angeles.

  1. People from almost all cultures learn to read Arabic numerals. All areas of the hospital, in particular the admitting office, radiology suite, and laboratory, should be identified with room numbers.

  2. Signs should be in as many relevant languages as possible. A directory can be prepared in many different languages listing the room number of the department, eg, social work, with the name of the department in the target language.

  3. The physician caring for an ethnically mixed population should learn as much as possible about the different cultures, through reading, going to ethnic restaurants, visiting museums, traveling, and attending festivals.

  4. The physician should learn a few words of each relevant language by asking the interpreter to write down the


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