Health communication in multilingual contexts: A study of reading preferences, practices, and proficiencies among literate adults in Zambia

Carol Underwood, Elizabeth Serlemitsos, Mubiana Macwangi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Comprehension of health materials and messages is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the development of health literacy; in the case of print materials, reading comprehension is elemental. Assessments of the population's ability to read and comprehend written materials are complex and highly salient in multilingual countries, such as Zambia, particularly when an excolonial language is but one of multiple official languages. Yet no study has contrasted adult Zambians' reading comprehension of health materials in the major Zambian languages with comparable English-language materials. This article reports the results of a survey of 2,009 literate Zambian adults who were tested for reading comprehension of health materials written at fourth- and eighth-grade levels. The analysis found that respondents who had not gone beyond primary school scored significantly higher on Zambian- than on English-language reading comprehension tests. Respondents with at least an eighth-grade education scored equally well or better on English-language compared with Zambian-language tests. Overall, respondents were more likely to pass the grade-four than the grade-eight reading comprehension tests. In the multilingual context of Zambia it is vital to produce health communication print materials written at or near a grade-four readability level in English and, when warranted, in appropriate Zambian languages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-337
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of health communication
Volume12
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Library and Information Sciences

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