false fluency

“Intoxicado” : What Can Happen with the Misinterpretation of a Single Word

Spoiler: it has nothing to do with ‘intoxicated’


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Interpretation errors — both big and small — occur when language resource provision is inadequate or when providers have a false sense of their language abilities.

The tragic case of Willie Ramirez regarding the misinterpretation of a single word — “intoxicado” — should serve to fuel action to change the landscape of language services.

Willie Ramirez became quadriplegic as a result of a misdiagnosed intracerebellar hemorrhage that continued to bleed for more than two days as he lay unconscious in the hospital. In the course of the law suit, it was asserted that Willie could have walked out of the hospital had the neurosurgeon been called in earlier. No neuro consult was ordered for two days because the Emergency Room physician and the doctor covering Willie in the ICU erroneously believed that Willie had suffered an intentional drug overdose and had treated him accordingly. The misdiagnosis was based on the physical exam which initially pointed to a drug overdose, and on complete confusion regarding the medical history. At the heart of this confusion, was the Spanish word “intoxicado” which is NOT equivalent to the English word “intoxicated.”
— http://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20081119.000463/full/

Providing innovative language support for healthcare providers will increase quality of care for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Read about the case of Willie Ramirez here.

Note: This post was first published by Canopy in our old blog in 2015, but remains today one of the most accessed content on our domains.