Language Barriers: Why Optometrists Require Professional Language Assistance

language barriers

Language barriers are evident all around the world due to there being over 6500 languages. Optometrists deal with people of all backgrounds and ages everyday. This means they are expected to fall into some communication difficulty from time to time. This story is based on a member of staff at Language Direct who recently travelled to China. Here is her interesting account of doing an eye test while not knowing the native language; Mandarin.


Iram’s Experience doing an Eye Test in China: 

Imagine being sat in a room needing a new pair of glasses in a foreign country where you can’t speak the native language. I did not speak any Mandarin except for broken words and phrases.  The optician testing me did not know any English apart from ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Eye tests usually take place by projecting an image of the alphabet on a wall on the other side of the room. The optician points at certain letters and asks to state which character is chosen as seen in the images below. Communication is key during this assessment as it does not only reveal the patient’s prescription, but might highlight any existing health related issues.

Language Barriers
Language Barriers

You can imagine my doubt at how I would be able to state back Mandarin characters to her as each letter is detailed. ‘This is going to be a disaster’ I thought. I was rethinking getting a pair of glasses abroad as I would probably go home to England with a wrong prescription.

However, the test was easy and super convenient. Neither the English alphabet or Mandarin alphabet were shown. Instead, the second eye chart was used with the character of a ‘E’ in four different rotations. To state which character I thought she was pointing to, all I hold to do was signal the shape with my hand. I made a number 3 sign to show an E and turned it left, right, or upside down.

Sometimes when I could not see clearly, I had to say “I don’t know” in Chinese which I thankfully knew. Along with saying ’yes’ or ‘no’ when she adjusted the lenses and assumed she asked if I could see clearly or not. The test was over after the awkward communication due to the language barriers. The prescribed lens turned out to be perfect.


Why Optometrists Should Consider Professional Interpreters: 

People from all the world require optical services for glasses and contact lenses. In England, there is a high rate of diversity. This suggests there is a high possibility of language barriers for non-native speakers. How are they meant to communicate when reciting back English alphabet letters they are not familiar with? A family member or staff can help interpret if possible. But if this is not available, professional support is needed to ensure customers are receiving the right product and service. As mentioned above, there are health issues related to eye care which optometrists need to assess too. This is another reason why language barriers need to be broken to ease both patients and staff.

This is an underrated sector in healthcare regarding translations and interpretations. Despite  hospitals, GPs and dentist usually receiving language help. Opticians require help too and we are ready to provide the professional service needed at Language Direct!


For More on Language Barriers and Medical Interpreting, Here are Some Relevant Articles:

BSL (British sign language) is quite common in healthcare settings, here are some tips when working with BSL interpreters.

Tips for working with BSL interpreters in medical settings



Medical translators and interpreters are needed for numerous reasons. This can range from ease of communication to avoiding a misdiagnosis for your customers.

Reasons why you should use medical translators and interpreters