More Than Words

Hello dear nurses,

I got a call recently from a client who was desperately seeking support for a nurse accused of misconduct and facing losing her right to practice as a nurse in Ireland.

When first hearing about the case, I asked a lot of questions and it seemed that communication difficulties were among the issues that patients had complained of about this nurse.

When I sat down to have a chat with this nurse to see how I could help her, it turned out that she was highly educated and communicated quite well.

One thing stood out about her communication and that was her pitch (how high and low her voice modulated). After reading a little about her mother tongue, it turned out that pitch was used quite differently in her mother tongue than in English. In English, people often raise to a high pitch when annoyed or nervous or anxious but in Hindi, this nurse’s native tongue, pitch is used to emphasise content that is important.

It seemed that this nurse was simply transferring a habit from her mother tongue, without realising the effect on her patient.

The episode clearly highlights that communication is so much more than the words we use; it’s all about how we use them. Knowing a language is more than having an extensive vocabulary; it’s about how we use that vocabulary. The use of pitch (high/low voice range) in English is very different to other langauges and good to know that a raised pitch signals some kind of distress or anxiousness, something that patients are bound to react to as it signals something is not quite right with the speaker.

Have you had miscommunications that were due to something like this nurse’s miscommunication – more than words?

Until next time,

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About Marie - Your English Language Blogger 7 Articles
I'm a linguist, language teacher and business owner. I love to help people excel through English.
  • Jocerse, ED RN

    You have a good point, Marie. I think it's a good idea to have some training on communication, especially about the nuances of speaking in another language. Exactly as you described it, some cultures have different intonations that can be misinterpreted as abrupt and disrespectful.