Cultural and translation challenges in assessing health literacy among immigrants from the former Soviet Union

Susan J Shaw, Cristina Huebner Torres, Jeannie K. Lee, Dina Gavrilyuk, Josephine D Korchmaros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Health literacy is an important foundation for health promotion and an under-recognized risk factor for immigrant and refugee groups. Yet measuring health literacy among diverse ethnic and linguistic populations presents complex challenges. We describe cultural and translation challenges encountered in measuring health literacy among Russian-speaking immigrants to the USA and offer a mixed-methods approach to understanding them. The Rx-Health Literacy (RxHL) study used cross-sectional quantitative and qualitative data to examine health literacy and medication adherence among five cultural and four language groups (Latinx, Vietnamese, African-American, Russian-speaking immigrant and White American) who are patients at Caring Health Center, a federally qualified health center in Springfield, MA. We translated an existing health literacy scale into Russian and Vietnamese and examined item difficulty across cultural groups. We conducted qualitative cognitive interviews to learn more about Russian speakers' understandings of the scale. Health literacy scores varied by cultural group, and the range of correct responses was much greater among Russian speakers than in other groups. Percentage correct varied by 69.7% for Russian speakers, compared with 25.0-44.0% for other groups. These findings indicate greater variability in health literacy levels among this group compared with others. Cognitive interviews with Russian-speaking participants revealed multiple interpretations of several items, suggesting that the English version of the scale contained embedded meanings associated with an American health care context that were not captured in the translated instrument. Combining qualitative and quantitative research methods allows for greater insight into contextual and translation factors that may shape the results of translated instruments in unanticipated ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdaad103
JournalHealth promotion international
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2023


  • health communication
  • health literacy
  • immigrant health
  • qualitative
  • translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Cultural and translation challenges in assessing health literacy among immigrants from the former Soviet Union'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this