Breaking Down Language Barriers

The Plain English Health Dictionary was officially launched at the start of June, marking the end of three years of hard work for Maddy Hay, Miwatj Health’s Public Health Projects Coordinator. Maddy worked alongside the Aboriginal Interpreter Service (AIS), representatives from NT Health, and Menzies School of Health Research to co-lead the development of the Plain English Health Dictionary. The pioneering resource will break down the language barriers that impact numerous Territorians and allow more people to make informed decisions about their health.

What Is the Plain English Health Dictionary?

Based on James Gaykamangu’s Medical Words Booklet, the Plain English Health Dictionary is a health literacy aid and training tool. It was developed to bridge a gap in health communication by translating concepts and terms from medical English to plain English, thus making the interpretation process simpler. The dictionary uses a style of English that closely matches the lexicon (words), syntax (grammar), discourse (genre and logic) of Aboriginal languages. It is similar to the widely used Plain English Legal Dictionary, which was developed in 2015.

What’s in the Plain English Health Dictionary?

The Plain English Health Dictionary is a comprehensive resource that covers all areas of healthcare. In addition to the dictionary section, it also includes:

  • Diagrams
  • Fact sheets on conditions specific to the Top End
  • A list of NT Health specialists and what they do
  • Cultural safety information for AIS interpreters

These inclusions ensure that Indigenous language interpreters are effectively supported and resourced to provide high quality services to their clients when they’re accessing mainstream Australian health systems.

Does the Plain English Health Dictionary Overly Simplify Health Information?

No! The Plain English Health Dictionary is not an attempt to simplify or ‘dumb down’ health terms. Rather, it is one that understands the intended audience and expresses concepts in a way that makes the most logical sense. Everyone has the right to access quality healthcare and understand the treatment they’re being given—the Plain English Health Dictionary can be used by AIS interpreters across the NT to facilitate better communication between First Nations people and health service providers.

Using the Plain English Health Dictionary at Miwatj

The Plain English Health Dictionary was commissioned by the Northern Territory Primary Health Network and officially launched at Menzies School of Health Research in June 2023. It is available for all to access here.

Now that is out in the world, we’re looking forward to seeing the Plain English Health Dictionary’s use throughout Miwatj Health locations. It will be a great complement to the other incredible resources our Public Health team have been rolling out this year, including Yolŋu Matha posters and stories, developed in collaboration with ARDS.

Well done Public Health, and congratulations Maddy. Having the Plain English Health Dictionary and these other resources out in the world is a great step in the right direction for increasing the use of Indigenous languages in health settings across Australia.

Miwatj Health Public Health Projects Coordinator, Maddy, poses with colleague at Plain English Health Dictionary launch.