It’s a little-known fact that the US doesn’t have an official language. Still, not speaking English in the United States is a major disadvantage, and, as a new study shows, it can even affect vital issues like a person’s health.
In a recent piece published in the International Journal of Economics and Business Research, Dr. Ibrahim Niankara shared his findings about the language barrier in the US. Using statistics techniques, Niankara extrapolated that increased English proficiency goes hand in hand with increased wealth and decreased medical expenses.
The point some have taken from Niankara’s study is that those with limited or no English proficiency are less likely to be informed about things like preventative care and free screening programs, since resources may not be available in their native language.
But this isn’t the only way that language can be an impediment to preventative care. Most high-paying jobs in the United States require English fluency. Thus, many non-English-speaking immigrants are likely to have labor-intensive, low paying jobs. They don’t have as much free time to learn about health issues or to practice self-care. Even if they are informed, they may lack time or energy for things like regular exercise and careful shopping for healthy food.
In the US (and in many other countries), a low income also makes it harder to eat healthy. After all, many fast-food value meals are more affordable than a homemade meal that includes protein and fresh vegetables.
Niankara’s correlation between healthcare spending and English proficiency goes hand in hand with the income, hours, and labor intensiveness of the jobs that are typically available to non-English speakers in the US. That’s why, in most cases, in order to achieve “the American dream”, or even simply stay healthy, English proficiency is a must.
If you have a friend or family member whose English proficiency is holding them back, there are some ways you can help. A quick online search for “free ways to learn English” will result in a number of resources, including free courses at community centers and local libraries, as well as free online courses and resources.
This means that just about anyone can find a way to learn or improve their level of English, regardless of their schedule, location, and preferred method of learning.
If the person you know urgently needs to consult with a doctor or other healthcare provider, look into medical translators (for documents) and interpreters (for on-site or telehealth consultations).
In fact, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, healthcare providers are required to provide a medical interpreter. When making an appointment, let them know you need one beforehand (if you bring your own interpreter, your healthcare provider may not cover costs).
In the US, improving your English means increasing your chances at a better life - and better health. It won’t necessarily be easy (language learning rarely is, even under the best of circumstances) but it’s worth the effort. Fortunately, the variety of tools and resources availabe online and in real life makes learning English accessible to just about anyone. There is hope.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg