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Development of Guidelines on the Use of Interpreters in Survey Interviews

Yuling Pan

KEY WORDS: Interpretation, survey interviews, selection and training for interpreters


Not much attention has been paid to the ways in which interpreters are currently being used in the conduct of federal household surveys. Many of these surveys entail personal interviews and are conducted largely by monolingual, English-speaking field interviewers. When a monolingual English-speaking field interviewer encounters a household in which the adult members speak little or no English, he or she must rely on someone (an interpreter) who speaks the target language of the respondent for assistance in conducting the interview. Given the increase in the size of the non-English-speaking population in the United States, the ways in which interpreters are used, their training, and their qualifications for playing this role should be of key interest to federal statistical agencies that take pride in the quality of the survey data they collect.

This paper discusses the role of interpreters in federal survey interviews, and shows the need to develop guidelines for selecting, training, and evaluating interpreters to ensure the quality of data collected from non-English-speaking households. This study is based on results from a web search of best practices in using interpreters by survey organizations around the world and on observations of Census Bureau field staff conducting interviews with non-English-speaking respondents.


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

Created: January 26, 2007
Last revised: January 26, 2007

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