Culture, Language, and Health Literacy

Effective health communication is as important to health care as clinical skill.

To improve individual health and build healthy communities, health care providers need to recognize and address the unique culture, language and health literacy of diverse consumers and communities.

Cultural and Linguistic Competence

  • The National Center for Cultural Competence Go to exit disclaimer.
    The Center works to increase the capacity of health care programs to design, implement, and evaluate culturally and linguistically competent service delivery systems that address growing diversity, persistent disparities, and to promote health and mental health equity.
  • Cultural and Linguistic Competence Policy Assessment (CLCPA) Go to exit disclaimer.
    The National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) developed the CLCPA at HRSA's request. It assists community health centers to advance and sustain cultural and linguistic competence.


Cultural Competency & HIV/AIDS Care

Culturally competent service providers are crucial to recruiting and retaining people living with HIV/AIDS into primary care. This is particularly true when they are members of historically disenfranchised communities and populations such as people of color, gay men, women, and substance users.

Maternal & Child Health

Documenting the Implementation of Cultural and Linguistic Competence: A Guide for Maternal and Child Health Bureau Funded Training Programs Go to exit disclaimer. (PDF - 139 KB)

Suggested approaches for grant proposals, progress reports, and site visits to document these efforts or progress over time.

How to define key terms


Attitudes and behaviors, which are characteristic of a group or community.

Cultural Competence

A set of similar behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations.

Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

  • Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English can be limited English proficient, or "LEP." These individuals may be entitled to language assistance with respect to a particular type or service, benefit, or encounter.
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires recipients of federal financial assistance to take reasonable steps to make their programs, services, and activities by eligible persons with limited English proficiency.

Health Literacy

The degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services necessary to make appropriate health decisions.

Plain Language

Writing that is clear, to the point, helps to improve communication and takes less time to read and understand.

Date Last Reviewed:  October 2020

Additional Federal Resources

National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities Toolkit for Community Action (PDF - 9.4 MB) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality

Toolkit for Making Written Materials Clear and Effective Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Clear Communication National Institutes of Health