My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Census Director Groves Talks Language Assistance in SF

By Sonja Sharp for

What do you get when you toss together 57 languages, $300 million and a five pronged attack? Well, if you’re Robert M. Groves, Director of the US Census Bureau, you hope you get a slightly better count.

If there’s one clear message that everyone can take from Groves’ presentation at San Francisco City Hall today, its that the ethnic press is alive and well. Immigrant groups across the country have expressed unparalleled interest in the 2010 census, making today’s event particularly well attended. But questions about how well the census will actually be able to reach those immigrants still linger.

In case you don’t read Cantonese or Tagalog, here’s the breakdown:

The Census Bureau has totally ramped up its PR campaign for 2010. In total, it plans to spend $3oo million, nearly all of it in targeted, local advertising. The emphasis here is on language outreach, small ethnic newspapers and foreign language TV and radio.  During the first week of March, letters introducing the census  will go out to every home in America. Three hundred million of them, currently sitting in a storeroom somewhere in DC.

Those will direct non-English speakers to a call center where no fewer than 57 languages are spoken. Unfortunately, the census is only available in six: English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese. Tagalog was removed after 2000.

But speakers of Urdu, Khmer and  Burmese are in luck! A quick glance at some yet-t0-be released “language assistance forms” (which basically translate the entire census into a third language) show a wealth of other, less widely spoken languages in the cache.

For many, language is less of a barrier than fear, and fear may be hard to staunch, since the Obama administration has made clear it won’t end immigration raids in April.

“As you might imagine, the ability of one federal agency to ask another federal agency to cease activities consistent with their mission is almost zero,” Groves said. ” There will be no formal request to the dhs for the halting of those raids.”

3 Responses to “Census Director Groves Talks Language Assistance in SF”

  1. Derick Moore Says:

    From the U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office:

    To clarify a few points in the post “Census Director Groves Talks Language Assistance in SF”

    The 2010 Census questionnaires are being printed in six languages. While Tagalog was removed, Russian was added. In 2000, only English questionnaires were mailed/delivered, while in 2010, English and bilingual English/Spanish forms will be mailed/delivered. This will be the first time that bilingual English/Spanish forms are mailed/delivered to 13 million addresses in neighborhoods where Spanish is predominately spoken. The questionnaires in the other languages are available upon request.

    Telephone Questionnaire Assistance will be available in 21 languages. Paid advertising will be in 28 languages. Language Assistance Guides are available in 59 languages (not 57) and have already been released on the Census Bureau Web site at:

    And, our partnership staff speak a total of 101 languages, raising the grand total reach of our enhanced language program to at least 99.8 percent of all adults in the U.S., 99.3 percent of whom we reach in their native tongue.

  2. an_oak_tree Says:

    Thank you Derick. Would it be possible for the Census Bureau to put out a list of all your languages?

  3. Anonymous CL Says:

    From 2010 Census FAQs:

    Question: Will there be a bilingual questionnaire?
    Answer: Yes. The initial questionnaire that is mailed to some households in designated areas will be bilingual in English and Spanish.
    ["Mailed to about 10 million housing units in about 42 states plus D.C."]

    Question: Why did I receive a bilingual questionnaire?
    Answer: We are providing this questionnaire in areas where census data suggested there are a large number of Spanish speakers who could benefit from receiving a questionnaire in Spanish as well as English. We believe this will help respondents complete the form with limited assistance from the Census Bureau.

    Question: Will there be questionnaires in other languages?
    Answer: Yes, when a respondent calls the telephone questionnaire assistance phone number located on the back of their English form, they may request a questionnaire in Spanish, Chinese (Simplified), Vietnamese, Korean, or Russian. We also have Be Counted forms available in these five non-English languages in local libraries and other public locations across the country.

    Question: Will there be a bilingual replacement questionnaire?
    Answer: No, we do not have plans to distribute bilingual replacement questionnaires. However, you can call the phone number on the back of the English form to request a questionnaire in Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, or Russian.

    Question: Will the replacement questionnaires be mailed in any languages other than English?
    Answer: No. Replacement questionnaires will only be mailed in the English language. However, residents may call the telephone questionnaire assistance number on the back of their English form to request a questionnaire in Spanish, Chinese (Simplified), Vietnamese, Korean and Russian.

    Question: Will the communications materials be in any other language besides English?
    Answer: We will have advertisements in 14 different languages: English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog/Taglish, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Khmer, Hindi/Hinglish, Arabic, Russian, Polish, and French Creole. Other promotional materials may be developed in additional languages based on population need at the local and regional levels.
    [apparently now "Paid advertising will be in 28 languages", 14 more]

    List of the Language Assistance Guides‘ 59 languages:
    Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian,
    Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese,
    Cebuano, Chamorro, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Chuukese, Croatian, Czech,
    Dari, Dinka, Dutch,
    Farsi, French,
    German, Greek, Gujarati,
    Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Hungarian,
    Ilocano, Italian,
    Khmer/Cambodian, Korean,
    Laotian, Lithuanian,
    Malayalam, Marshallese,
    Navajo, Nepali,
    Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi,
    Romanian, Russian,
    Samoan, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili,
    Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tigrinya, Tongan, Turkish,
    Ukrainian, Urdu,

    Don’t have any information about the “Telephone Questionnaire Assistance will be available in 21 languages”; all information still says the phone assistance will just be in the 6 questionnaire languages (English, Spanish, Chinese Simplified, Vietnamese, Korean, or Russian).