Lifelong Learning Programme

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Training of Lecturers

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This training package is addressed to lecturers and trainers in the field of paediatrics on how to assist paediatric undergraduate and resident students in developing and consolidating their soft skills for improving the quality of paediatric services.

Communicating in a multilingual environment

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4 Challenges of communicating in a multicultural environment
Above all, communicating in a multicultural setting requires flexibility and patience. In some cases, dominant cultural goals will conflict with family goals and will therefore lead to misunderstandings. For example, it is generally recommended to use a ludic approach when providing care for children, including the use of games, play and activities that engage the child’s sense of fun and curiosity. At the same time, however, it is vital to recognize that in some cultures, play between children and adults is not common. Latino parents, to name but one example, tend to view themselves as providers in helping their child with support rather than as playmates. This attitude is attributed to the perspective of their role as communication partner, in contrast to play partner in the child’s life. Culturally awkward, if not charged situations could therefore arise easily, if either the adult pediatrician is seeking to bond with a child through a ludic approach or is encouraging the parent to pursue playful activity with the child in order to relax the child.

Another example of differing cultural approaches to building rapport with children concerns the use of storytelling. In Western cultures, storytelling is often used to entertain children with the goal of calming them down or making them feel relaxed. In some eastern cultures, however, stories are told to teach a moral or a social standard. Reading a story to a child could therefore potentially excite the child’s mind rather than having a calming effect and thus be working against the overall goal of the tending medical practitioner.

In very broad terms, a basic understanding of what is often called an individualistic approach to social life versus a collectivistic view can be helpful. Families from countries that tend towards individualism (usually found in North American countries and Northern European countries) emphasize independence, scientific knowledge, competition and financial freedom. Parents from those countries often feel a need to demonstrate their own knowledge and establish their position when communicate with an authority figure, such as a pediatrician. The preferred setting of communication is often personal, one-on-one communication with each party finishing his or her thought/expression before the other party continues (turn taking). Ideally, children from those countries are happy, assertive, inquisitive and generous. Each child should have its own sleeping area, be able to explore its environment without restriction (childproofing the home), have a structured bedtime and is encouraged to play independent from the parent. Families from countries with a tendency towards a collectivist social view (many cultures within African, Asian or Latin American countries) pursue a different approach: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual. Interdependence, personal expression and an extended family circle are at the core of this socio-cultural worldview. Harmony within any given group of people (family, tribe, etc.) is of utmost importance and helping others is seen as a basic social responsibility. The family forms the core unit of social life and parents encourage all children to support each other. Ideally, children from such cultures are obedient, respectful, cooperative, honest and helpful. Children are often expected to share what they have with others, especially within the family circle. Children usually share sleeping arrangements, learn to express affection verbally and physically from an early age and are expected to show respect to others, especially older ones and those in position of authority.

While it is important to keep in mind that the above mentioned distinction is a very simplified description of socio-cultural worldviews, understanding these different views of life through the lens of culture can assist greatly in bridging any differences in multicultural settings.

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.