Archive for March 29, 2013

Traditional or Simplified? Cantonese or Mandarin? What’s the difference?

Differences among Asian-American Subgroups

Image courtesy of Pew Research Center

Not a month goes by without one of my new customers asking me to prepare an estimate for them in Chinese. Which always leads to my question, “Do you want Simplified or Traditional Chinese?” and instantaneously my question begs another question from the requester, “What’s the difference?”

Well there is a difference and it took me a couple of years and a little cheat sheet next to my phone to eventually save it to memory. Simplified Chinese, simply put and no pun intended, is the written language of Mainland China.  Traditional Chinese is the written language of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

You see that was easy! Well not really because in healthcare how do you know what your audience wants? The hospitals and health plans I work with predominantly request Traditional but I’m beginning to see more Simplified with certain systems and geographies in the West and the Hawaiian Islands.  So why do both? What’s the difference?

When it comes to Chinese it is important to understand that there is a distinction between the spoken and written forms of the language. There are dozens of dialects in China but the most widely spoken ones are Mandarin and Cantonese. We’ve discussed the two Chinese writing systems, Traditional and Simplified. Neither script is directly linked to a particular dialect. A Mandarin speaker for example may write in the Traditional or Simplified script.  Interestingly enough, it is not uncommon for people who cannot communicate verbally in Chinese to be able to understand each other through writing.

Chinese is one of the oldest written languages, dating back thousands of years. A number of reforms have been implemented to standardize it. The most important one took place in 1956 when the government introduced the Simplified Chinese script in an effort to promote literacy throughout the country. As its name implies in this new script the characters were simplified by reducing the number of strokes. Generally speaking it is much easier for someone who reads Traditional Chinese to read Simplified Chinese than other way around.

So now we know the history but what is best for your audience?  The easiest decision is selecting both but that can be costly, especially if you have a tight budget and numerous materials to translate. If in doubt, select Traditional.  If you know that your audience may be less educated, select Simplified.

Bill Kennedy

Healthcare Account Executive-West

Understanding the difference between Ilocano and Tagalog

Filipinos speak several languages. Two of the more common are Ilocano and Tagalog, and there is some confusion regarding the differences between them.

While the official name of the national language is now called Filipino, many people still refer to it as Tagalog. Originally a regional language, Tagalog became the basis of the Philippine national language and is now spoken widely in the entire Philippines by the Ilocanos, Cebuanos, Ilongos, Cordillerans and other indigenous tribes who each have their own native language.

Tagalog/Filipino is formally taught in schools and serves as a medium of instruction alongside English. It is also used in national print and broadcast media, so children learn it both inside and outside the classroom setting. However, Tagalog/Filipino is seldom used in written communications and official documents. English is used extensively in the fields of medicine (doctors write prescriptions, medical reports and diagnosis in English), engineering, law (legal documents and courts proceedings are in English and courts use translators to Tagalog or Ilocano when necessary), banking and finance, and most other professions.

Ilocano is a regional “Austronesian” language spoken in the northern part of Luzon and is sometimes referred to as Ilokano, Iloco or Iluko. Some people refer to Ilocano as a dialect. Carl Rubino explains the difference:

You will undoubtedly run into many Filipinos in your travels who will insist that Ilocano is not a language, but a dialect. This is because Filipinos, like the Chinese, use the terms language and dialect politically rather than linguistically. In the Philippines, the word language is usually reserved for tongues that are given a certain political and legal status. Tagalog, the native language of the people around the Manila area of southern Luzon Island, was declared the basis for the national Language (wikang pambansa) in 1937. All other languages of the archipelago were therefore never duly recognized officially and have been called dialects ever since.

Ilocano is not as adaptive to linguistic evolution as Filipino/Tagalog and is not formally taught in schools, but is still used by millions of people in the Philippines and abroad. It is perpetuated by its oral use in mass media, political campaigns and church services in the Ilocandia region. Ilocano writers of prose and poetry also help preserve grammar rules.

In many cases, because of the wide use of English, terms with no local equivalents in Tagalog or Ilocano are sometimes better left in English since these are understood by the majority of Filipinos and to try to translate them for translation’s sake would render the terms ambiguous, such as credit card, debit or bank account. Thus, it is very common to hear English terms interspersed in conversations in Ilocano and Tagalog.

Learnings from DiversityRx

It was great to see all of our customers and colleagues at DiversityRx this week. I’m always impressed with the deep passion and compassion of the individuals dedicated to reducing disparities and improving health literacy. There was an impressive line-up of speakers sharing information and insights. Topics ranged from the need for early development of cultural competencies in pre-college and Med school to the other end of the life continuum – understanding the needs of culturally diverse aging communities and ultimately, palliative care.

This year’s theme “Quality Health Care for Culturally Diverse Populations: Achieving Equity in an Era of Innovation and Health System Transformation” was explored in depth. Workshops focused on patient engagement, training and staff development, utilization of quality improvement tools, qualitative data analysis, improving access and care though collaboration and partnerships, the role of eHealth and technology, religious diversity, and recognizing our biases – conscious and unconscious. All topics had the over-arching goal of improving health literacy, access, satisfaction and outcomes for our culturally diverse communities.

The conference was rounded out with sessions addressing our dynamic era of  transformation: advocacy, policy; initiatives from the HHS Office for Civil Rights, and opportunities for advancing equity afforded by the Affordable Care Act. There are too many topics to highlight here – I suggest you check out the DiversityRx web site for more information and to join the conversation.


Come see VIA at DiversityRx in Oakland, March 11-14th

VIA will be exhibiting at the 8th annual DiversityRx Conference next week in Oakland, California at the Oakland Marriott City Center. This year’s topic is “Quality Health Care for Culturally Diverse Populations: Achieving Equity in an Era of Innovation and Health System Transformation”.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates that health literacy is an issue for 90 million people in the U.S. at all education levels. It is particularly prevalent among:

  • The elderly
  • Low income or undereducated groups
  • Immigrants or members of minority or ethnic groups who face additional language and cultural barriers

Ensuring health literacy is crucial when dealing with a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) audience. Bridging the language gap is vital to not only to ensuring culturally diverse communities enjoy equal access to healthcare, but also to effectively communicate with a multicultural audience.

My fellow dedicated healthcare specialists will be available on-site to discuss solutions to overcoming the challenges of health literacy, as well as the healthcare reform laws that pertain to language access and how health providers can equip themselves to serve their diverse members.

Please tell us in the comments if you or your company will be attending and/or exhibiting at DiversityRx next week. Drop by our booth for a chance to win a tablet or visit us online at for more information.