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2010 Census Language Program: Pretesting of Census 2010 Questionnaire in Five Languages

Yuling Pan (U.S. Census Bureau), M. Mandy Sha (RTI International), Hyunjoo Park (RTI International), Alisú Schoua-Glusberg (Research Support Services)

KEY WORDS: census questions, translation, non-English languages


The Census Bureau contracted with RTI to conduct cognitive interviews to determine the accuracy and effectiveness of the translations of Census 2010 mailout/mailback self-administered questionnaires. The target languages to be reviewed include Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Russian. The aim of the cognitive interviews is

  • To examine how speakers of the target languages understand and respond to the translated questions in the 2010 census form;
  • To ensure that the translation of the 2010 census form in each of the target languages was accurate, reliable, and appropriate;
  • To identify problems associated with specific terms in the target languages and concepts contained in the 2010 Census questionnaire; and
  • To identify alternative translations for the problematic terms and concepts, and to test newly identified terminology.

Cognitive interviews in English were also conducted to determine whether issues found in any of the four target languages present similar problems in English. A total of 109 participants completed in-depth cognitive interviews (16 for English cognitive interviews, 23 each in Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and 24 in Russian). Results included the following: 1) translations in the four target languages were generally correct and accurate, however, the translations used difficult wording, uncommonly used words, or long and complex sentences which caused confusion and unnecessary difficulty for respondents, especially for respondents with lower levels of education; 2) some concepts did not exist in the target cultures which caused problems for translation (e.g., foster children, mobile home, nursing home); 3) different cultural practices led to misreport of data (e.g., age-counting practice); and 4) respondents exhibited noticeable difficulties in comprehending the instructions and questions and failed to understand the purpose of the census form. Recommendations based on these results were incorporated into the revised 2010 non-English census forms.

CITATION: Pan, Yuling, Sha, M. Mandy, Park, Hyunjoo, Schoua-Glusberg, Alisú. (2009). 2010 Census Language Program: Pretesting of Census 2010 Questionnaire in Five Languages. Statistical Research Division Research Report Series (Survey Methodology #2009-01). U.S. Census Bureau. Available online at <>.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Published online: February 10, 2009
Last revised: January 12, 2009

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010