This study was part of an ethnographic research project in the 2010 Census Assessment and Research Program to observe the 2010 Census Nonresponse Followup interviews with households that speak a language other than English, in areas of the U.S. with heavy concentrations of residents with limited English proficiency. A multilingual research team consisting of seven sub-teams in the seven primary languages (Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese) was commissioned to carry out the research in the 2010 Census.

The objectives of this research were to identify: (1) how language and socio-cultural factors affect the enumeration of non-English-speaking populations during the Nonresponse Followup interview process; (2) what measures were taken by enumerators to negotiate and maintain access to non-English-speaking households and to collect the required census data from these households; (3) how in-language census materials were used in the field; (4) how non-English speaking immigrant populations perceived and reacted to the census and its public messaging; and (5) what changes, if any, are needed to improve the enumeration process with households that have limited or no English proficiency. Findings from this study will help develop recommendations for planning the 2020 Census, including the Decennial Language Program, questionnaire development, translation of census questions, use of interpreters in enumeration interviews, and interviewer training.

This report presents findings from the Spanish research team of bilingual ethnographers who studied the Spanish community to highlight the issues observed in the research. While the findings clearly draw attention to the importance of linguistic competency among NRFU enumerators, they also demonstrate that we need more than linguistic competency, language aids, and minority language media campaigns in order to increase successful census participation among linguistic minorities. The negotiation of interview access, effective communication about the census’ objectives, the translation of concepts that do not carry conceptual equivalence, the ability to successfully sustain the interview as a communicative event, and ultimately the ability to elicit the information that the census is designed to obtain —are all demonstrated to require robust understandings of the highly differentiated social and cultural contexts of particular immigrant communities. Drawing on findings from the ethnographic study, the report suggests recommendations for planning the 2020 Census.


Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Applied Linguistics | First and Second Language Acquisition | Spanish Linguistics