Language Barriers to Access

Key Questions (by Nastassja Marshall)

How Many People in the United States Have Difficulty Speaking and Understanding English?

The United States Census of 2000 accurately profiles the language use and English speaking ability for United States residents. For a more recent estimate of language use and English speaking ability, the United States Census Bureau also has 2005 data on the Percent of People 5 Years and Over Who Speak English Less Than “Very Well.”

The United States Census Bureau has also generated a map which shows the percentage of people in the United States, per state, which is foreign born. This map helps to demonstrate the diversity of the United States and the need for both linguistic and cultural resources for these populations.

What Resources are in Place for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Patients?

The Office of Minority Health is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The OMH aims to develop health policies that will eventually eliminate ethnic and racial disparities. The OMH also operates a resource center which gives free information and referrals to community groups, consumers, professionals, and students who are interested in minority health issues.

The United States Government has also developed a website which aims to help people with limited English proficiency navigate federal programs and federally assisted programs. has information about these programs in about twenty-eight languages.

What are Researchers, Policymakers and Providers Doing to Address Barriers to Health Care Caused by Language?

The American Medical association developed a videocast entitled “Addressing Language Barriers Between Physician and Patient: What Are the Optimal Strategies?” This videocast has valuable recommendations for healthcare facilities and providers who wish to reach out to their LEP patients. The California Endowment has also published a report entitled “Language Barriers in Health Care Settings: An Annotated Bibliography of the Research Literature.” This annotated bibliography allows researchers and providers to quickly find the evidence and examples needed for them to advocate for more efficient services for patients who are often unable to advocate for themselves.

Some researchers have chosen to focus on specific populations when making recommendations on how to improve healthcare services for LEP patients. The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health has published a systematic review entitled “The Impact of Language Barriers on the Health Care of Latinos in the United States.” The review examines articles published from1990-2000 and the major obstacles that LEP Latino patients faced during that decade.


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