What Is Cultural and Linguistic Competence?


Because of shifting demographic trends in the United States, managed care plans need to change in order address the needs of multi-ethnic members. To help, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) commissioned development of two guides: Planning Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services and Providing Oral Linguistic Services (select for summaries). The guides use the definitions below.

Linguistic Competence: Providing readily available, culturally appropriate oral and written language services to limited English proficiency (LEP) members through such means as bilingual/bicultural staff, trained medical interpreters, and qualified translators.

Cultural Competence: A set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system or agency or among professionals that enables effective interactions in a cross-cultural framework.1

Cultural and Linguistic Competence: The ability of health care providers and health care organizations to understand and respond effectively to the cultural and linguistic needs brought by the patient to the health care encounter.2

Cultural competence requires organizations and their personnel to:

  • Value diversity.
  • Assess themselves.
  • Manage the dynamics of difference.
  • Acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge.
  • Adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of individuals and communities served.


1 Cross et al. 1998. Towards a Culturally Competent System of Care: A Monograph on Effective Services for Minority Children Who Are Severely Emotionally Disturbed. Washington DC: CASSP Technical Assistance Center, Georgetown University Child Development Center.

2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. 2000. Assuring Cultural Competence in Health Care: Recommendations for National Standards and an Outcomes-Focused Research Agenda. https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/Assets/pdf/checked/Assuring_Cultural_Competence_in_Health_Care-1999.pdf

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Page last reviewed July 2019
Page originally created July 2019
Internet Citation: What Is Cultural and Linguistic Competence?. Content last reviewed July 2019. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/ncepcr/tools/cultural-competence/definition.html
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