The first step in the provision of culturally appropriate aged care is to address issues around language and communication. Effective communication is essential to the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of your care recipients.

The language needs of your care recipients must be addressed across all care services, including health and personal care, dementia care and palliative care services. Communication difficulties can severely compromise the quality of care provided to care recipients. Accurate and appropriate communication between staff and care recipients is crucial at all times, especially when care plans are developed and reviewed. Using professional interpreting and translating services at these times - and whenever informed consent is required - will help to ensure the provision of appropriate care, as well as ensuring a risk management approach to service delivery.

Information about services should be made available in the preferred language of care recipients, while procedures should be implemented to enable care recipients and their families to contribute to the continuous improvement system, provide feedback on planning objectives and access complaints mechanisms in their preferred language.

Information provision is not the only aspect of providing culturally appropriate services; the social and emotional communication needs of care recipients must also be addressed in daily life, including leisure activities and spiritual support programs. Encouraging and facilitating the use of care recipients' preferred language enables participation, reduces social isolation and creates a sense of belonging.

We understand the popularity with some aged care service providers of using pictorial communication boards to communicate with care recipients. However, it must be stressed that such a device is just one tool – with limited effectiveness – and should not be used as a sole method of communication.

Rather, more effective communication strategies should be promoted and fostered at an organisational level instead – for example, the use of professional interpreting services, the recruitment of bilingual staff, language lessons for staff and cultural awareness training.

Key Considerations

Interpreting Services

  • Inform all care recipients of their right to access professional interpreting services at any time, and of the availability of telephone interpreting services.
  • Use professional interpreting services:
    - as requested by care recipients and/or their families;
    - when care plans are developed and reviewed; and
    - whenever informed consent is required.
  • Beware of the ethical implications, privacy issues and potential for grave misunderstanding in using bilingual staff, family members or friends to communicate on behalf of care recipients.

Bilingual Staff

  • Actively promote the recruitment of bilingual staff.
  • Consider using the language skills of unaccredited bilingual staff for social communication with care recipients. Ensure this responsibility is clearly addressed by human resources (ie defined in the position description and appropriately remunerated).
For more information on bilingual staff, read our guide for Working with Bilingual Staff in Aged Care.  

Information Provision

  • Conduct the entry and orientation program in the preferred language of care recipients and their families.
  • Use professional translators to translate all documents requiring the consent of care recipients, such as care plans, as well as other documents as required.
  • Provide information about services, including health and personal care procedures, in the preferred language of care recipients.
  • Ensure care recipients and their representatives have access to internal and external complaint mechanisms and quality improvement systems in their preferred language.
  • Communicate the organisation's planning objectives to care recipients and their families in their preferred language, and offer a variety of ways to provide feedback - eg written comment, interviews and group discussion.
  • Provide menu choices and food services information in the preferred language of care recipients.
  • Consider the language needs of care recipients in the living environment of residential aged care facilities - eg signage in community languages.

Social Communication

  • Ensure the linguistic needs of care recipients are addressed in emotional support, spiritual support and leisure activities programs.
  • Explore the availability of volunteers to provide recreational visits in the preferred language of care recipients.
  • Support care recipients' access to multicultural media (including radio, TV and newpapers) as desired.

Staff Education & Training

  • Consider providing language lessons for staff to enable them to communicate in the preferred language of your care recipients.
  • Provide training for all staff in cultural awareness, appropriate communication and the correct use of telephone and on-site interpreting services.

Resources and Links

Communication resources developed by the Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing

  • Communication Cards
    Designed as a tool for enhancing communication with people in their preferred language. They depict a wide range of daily activities and situations and can be used to prompt discussion, assist with directions, clarify a client’s needs, etc. Available in bilingual format in 20 languages.
  • Aged Care Signage
    Package of signs designed for aged care facilities and other services to assist their clients to navigate their way around a home or service. Signage such as kitchen, dining room, keep out, danger and this way to the garden, will help staff communicate with residents/clients aiming to minimise confusion and miscommunication.  Available in bilingual format in 20 languages.
  • Bilingual Aged Care Service Publications
    Bilingual Aged Care Service Booklets have been developed to assist clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds familiarise themselves with the wide range of aged care services available. Booklets include: Resident Handbook, Options in Aged Care, Residential Care and Services Guide, Community Care Client Guides (CACP, EACH and EACHD).
  • Glossary of Aged Care Terminology
    Developed by the Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing

    Containing around 1000 terms translated into 19 community languages, this Glossary of Aged Care Terminology has been developed to promote consistency of translations of aged care information.

Interpreting and Translating Services Resources

         An on-site interpreter booking form is now available online here.

  • Practitioner's Directory

    National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
    The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters Ltd (trading as NAATI) is the national standards and accreditation body for translators and interpreters in Australia. Search the Online Directory of translators and interpreters accredited or recognised by NAATI.

  • Interpreter and Translator Directory
    Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT)
    The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) is the national association for the translating and interpreting profession. Search for an interpreter or translator within Australia.

Guides to Working with Interpreters and Translators

Other Resources

  • 'I need an Interpreter' Card

    Department of Immigration and Border Protection 
    The ‘I need an interpreter’ card is designed to assist non English speakers request an interpreter when they need to communicate with an English speaker. The cards are provided free of charge.

  • Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National)
    Department of Immigration and Border Protection
    These TIS resources can assist clients with information on how to access interpeters and translations
  • Find your Language

    Health Translations Directory
    Find Your Language allows you to create a poster or flip chart that will assist you to identify the languages that people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities speak. The phrase “I speak ……” has been translated into over 90 languages.

  • Countries & Languages Spoken

    VITS Language Link
    This information is intended to provide useful general information regarding countries and the major languages/dialects/other languages spoken in those countries.

Use our National Resources Search for additional resources and links including resources developed under the Community Partners Program (CPP) and the Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) Initiative.