Perceptions of the need for minority languages by nurses in Southern Taiwan

  • Mei-Hui Tsai National Cheng Kung University
  • Huan-Fang Lee National Cheng Kung University
  • Shuen-Lin Jeng National Cheng Kung University
  • Sheng-Che Lin Tainan City Government
  • Li-Wei Hsieh Tainan Hospital
  • Jen-Pin Chuang Tainan Hospital
  • Elizabeth A. Jacobs University of Wisconsin
Keywords: ethnic minority language, language barrier, medical Taiwanese, need assessment, nursing


Background: While language barriers between healthcare providers and minority-language-speaking patients often lead to miscommunication and jeopardize patient safety, language audits of the former have received little attention.Goal: Based on the context in Southern Taiwan, where the elderly population mainly speaks the local dialect Taiwanese, this study examines nurses' perceptions of their proficiency in and need for medical Taiwanese (‘MED-TW'), and attitudes toward it.

Method: A questionnaire survey was conducted among 859 nurses from three levels of healthcare units: primary care stations (H1), a regional hospital (H2) and a medical center (H3).

Results: Nurses from the rural-based H1 unit displayed significantly stronger needs for Taiwanese (TW) than those from urban-based H2 and H3. Specifically, H1 nurses reported encounters with the largest proportion of TW-speaking clients (p<0.001) and the highest frequency of using TW with clients (p<0.001). However, H1 nurses' self-evaluation of their TW proficiency revealed a lower score than those of the H2 and H3 nurses, especially with regard to medical TW proficiency (p<0.05). Finally, while nurses with a high command of TW felt it helped their work, those with a low level did not feel this impacted their performance.

Conclusion: Nurses working in locations where the use of the minority language is prevalent would benefit more from learning this language.

Author Biographies

Mei-Hui Tsai, National Cheng Kung University

Mei-Hui Tsai, PhD in Linguistics, is a full Professor at National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. Her research interests include medical discourse, Taiwanese for medical purposes and the application of her research to medical education in Taiwan.

Huan-Fang Lee, National Cheng Kung University

Huan-Fang Lee, PhD in Nursing, is an Assistant Professor of the Nursing Department at National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. Her research interests include nursing administration, nurses’ health, critical care and adult nursing.

Shuen-Lin Jeng, National Cheng Kung University

Shuen-Lin Jeng, PhD in Statistics, is an Associate Professor of Statistics at National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. His research interests include product reliability, statistical modeling, statistical computing, industrial statistics, bioinformatics and data mining.

Sheng-Che Lin, Tainan City Government

Sheng-Che Lin, MD, PhD, is the Director of the Public Health Bureau, Tainan City Government, Taiwan.

Li-Wei Hsieh, Tainan Hospital

Li-Wei Hsieh, MA, is the Head of the Nursing Department, Tainan Hospital of Health and Welfare, Taiwan.

Jen-Pin Chuang, Tainan Hospital

Jen-Pin Chuang, MD, and Master of Medicine, is currently the Superintendent of Sinhua Branch, Tainan Hospital, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Taiwan. His research interests include surgical oncology, colorectal cancer treatment and general surgery.

Elizabeth A. Jacobs, University of Wisconsin

Elizabeth A. Jacobs, MD, MAPP, is a Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine and in the Department of Population Health Sciences.


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How to Cite
Tsai, M.-H., Lee, H.-F., Jeng, S.-L., Lin, S.-C., Hsieh, L.-W., Chuang, J.-P., & Jacobs, E. A. (2019). Perceptions of the need for minority languages by nurses in Southern Taiwan. Communication & Medicine, 15(1), 90-104.