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.

Posts Tagged ‘language’

Translation troubles in Texas

Friday, June 4th, 2010

H/t to KVUE for the following (Click HERE for the full report):

AUSTIN — Experts say an attempt at engaging Hispanic Texans in the 2010 Census missed the mark.

Earlier this year, the Census Bureau took out ads on dozens of Capital Metro buses — aimed at increasing census participation among Spanish speakers.
The ads on 28 buses attempted to translate from English into Spanish the census slogan “It’s in our hands.” The original ad translated “our hands” as “nuestros manos;” the proper translation is “nuestras manos.”
“If you use ‘she’ and you mean really ‘he’, the ‘he’ will be very confused and the ‘she’ won’t understand what’s going on. It’s the same way. That one letter means so much,” said Olga Pechnenko-Kopp, whose company translates for Fortune-500 companies around the world. “When you make a mistake like that, it’s all people see.”
A Cap Metro spokesperson said the mistaken ad was provided by the Census Bureau and corrected within a week. Total cost of the correction was less than $100. While the monetary cost of the mistake may have been minute, experts say the intangible cost could be far greater.
“This isn’t the first time this has happened, there have been instances in which it has impacted brands in the long term because that first, initial impression was so negative for that person,” said Gabriel García, creative director at Austin-based Latinworks. The firm helps companies target their messages to Hispanic consumers.

Is speaking English a requirement to become a 2010 Census employee? Apparently not.

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The following report comes from San Antonio. Has anyone else experienced a 2010 Census worker who doesn’t speak English or is this an isolated case?

By Steve Lindscomb

SAN ANTONIO-Census workers are knocking on doors to get unanswered forms, but what would you do if that worker couldn’t speak your language? That’s what happened to one woman recently. When we first asked the Census Bureau about this incident that a viewer wrote us about, they found it hard to believe, but when we told them we ran into the very worker ourselves, and he really could not speak english, they had some questions to answer.

Sylvia Turner told us she was shocked. The census worker she talked to was very nice and courteous, but could not hardly put two or three english words together. “I tried, I stood there, I tried to be very patient and he could not speak one work clearly.”

She said she was surprised because she thought every census worker was tested for fluency in at least english. She didn’t want to get the worker in trouble, but somehow, the system broke down.

Her question was “are they speaking to these individuals or are they just taking applications.”

When we cruised around this north side neighborhood we happened to run into a census worker. And wouldn’t you know it…it had to be the same guy, because after talking to him for ten minutes, neither one of us knew what the other was trying to say. We didn’t want to embarrass him so we aren’t identifying him, but we did ask the census bureau if workers are tested and screened to communicate with the public.

A spokesperson would only read a statement to me over the phone. “While enumerators can take the skills test in Spanish, they must also then pass an English proficiency test. Enumerator training is conducted in English and, afterward, workers are observed and evaluated for English proficiency and their ability to conduct the survey. ”

The Census Bureau did tell us that if you run into a similar language problem, the worker has a form where you can indicate in which language you can answer questions. Another worker fluent in that language should come back to your house the next day.

Language problems with the 2010 Census may lead to changes in reapportionment

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The following article from the Bellingham Herald is very well written and paints a vivid picture of the problems I have discussed about poor translation services and more:

By DANIEL C. VOCK – Stateline.org

WASHINGTON Upstate New York took in nearly 3,200 refugees during one recent year. That was nearly seven times as many as New York City did. The refugees, more than half of whom came from Myanmar, often need medical care and other social services, but the region does not have the same informational resources – such as translators and English-language classes – as New York City. To help them get those services, upstate hospital officials and other advocates want them recorded in the 2010 census and have helped spread the word to refugees.

It’s not an easy job, but it’s a potentially important one. The refugees from Myanmar who live in the county that includes Rochester, N.Y., speak six different dialects, making the task of finding a translator who understands medical terms even more difficult. When refugees do visit a doctor or the hospital in the Rochester General Medical Group, says Jim Sutton, who heads the group’s office of community medicine, their appointments last longer because of the language barrier and complications related to the fact that refugees often went years without any health care.

An accurate population count could highlight that need to government officials, Sutton says. “Politicians want to represent their constituencies. We have 8,000 refugees in our area. … If a representative saw that much of their population was voting members of their particular area, their ears may perk up a little bit when something comes before them regarding language.”

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This is the kind of small but ultimately significant problem state and local officials are wrestling with all over the country.

Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy knows how important the census count is for his state. He’s done the math himself. The once-a-decade tally is used for many things, but one of the most important is deciding how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House. According to Gillaspy’s latest projections, Minnesota could lose a seat by fewer than 1,000 people.

“It doesn’t get much closer than that,” muses Gillaspy, now involved in his fourth census for Minnesota. Miss just two college dorms – say, by counting them in June instead of April – and there goes the state’s eighth congressional seat.

“It is a huge operation to do a census. It is just an enormous, enormous thing. I don’t think people appreciate the precision which is required,” Gillaspy says. “It’s really at the core of everything that’s done in government and, to a large extent, in the private sector for an entire decade. So it better get done right.”

To the surprise of many, quite a few things are going pretty well this time. Across the country, 72 percent of residents have mailed in their census forms already. That’s roughly the same percentage that turned in their forms in 2000, which ended a three-decade slide in participation. That’s a good sign, according to experts, because the mail-in participation rate is a good indicator of how accurate the final count will be.

Experts credit several changes over the past decade for making it easier to educate residents about the census.

Perhaps most striking is the publicity blitz that promoted the mail-in portion of the census and continues now that 635,000 workers are going door-to-door to check with people who didn’t return their forms. The first big splash in the campaign was a much-maligned Super Bowl ad, but it was only the beginning. By the time the campaign is over, the U.S. Census Bureau plans to spend a record $133 million on advertising in 28 languages.

Behind the scenes, the federal government placed a greater emphasis on partnering with local organizations to get the message out. State and local governments have used a similar approach. Stacey Cumberbach, the head of New York City’s 2010 census office, says working with trusted leaders in different communities and across city government has helped the city boost its mail-in rates from 57 percent a decade ago to 60 percent this year.

Working with the city’s agency for public and subsidized housing helped get the message to one out of 12 New Yorkers, she says. Immigrants make up more than one-third of the city’s population, but that population in itself is very diverse. That’s why, Cumberbach says, it was so important for the city to rely on community leaders to promote the census.

In Minnesota, Gillaspy took advantage of a few other opportunities offered for the first time by the Census Bureau. In February, the state compared the numbers of addresses it had on its list for every block against the census’ count. Where there were big differences, the state asked the Census Bureau to double check its list of addresses.

Later this summer, Minnesota officials plan to compare state data for the capacity of group quarters – including prisons, nursing homes, halfway homes and dormitories – against the population count the census came up with in those facilities. If there’s a large difference, the Census Bureau will go back to recount the population there.

“It’s up to each individual state to volunteer to do this,” Gillaspy says. “I’m not aware that all states are doing this, but we certainly are.”

Gillaspy says Minnesota’s efforts during this cycle are more involved than they were a decade ago and far exceed the state outreach during the 1980 and 1990 headcounts. The Legislature approved funding for a three-year effort, and it can pay for itself by successfully counting even a relatively small number of people, he says.

Still, Kim Brace, the head of the consulting firm Election Data Services, is worried that some states have cut back on their outreach efforts to save money during this recession. He predicts, for example, that California will suffer because it couldn’t afford to better promote the census.

On the other hand, Brace says, technology has improved the amount of interim census data available to the public during the count.

“Ten years ago, we were lucky to have just to have an overall county-level count of the response rate at this time,” he says. “Now we’ve got it at the (census) tract level. That’s phenomenal.” Practically speaking, Brace says, that lets elected officials or community leaders check with the Census Bureau’s online maps to determine which areas are falling behind and respond immediately.

People who didn’t turn in their forms are less likely to answer the door when a Census worker comes knocking, explains New York City’s Cumberbach. And even if they do talk, she says, they may not provide accurate information.

In New York City, six people may share a one-bedroom apartment. Or a family of immigrants may include some people who are in the country legally and some who are not. “It’s almost like everyone has something in their home that they don’t want to share or that they’re nervous about,” Cumberbach says.

Neighborhoods with the lowest mail-in participation rates tend to have more blacks and more Hispanics than areas that turned in a bigger share of their forms, according to an analysis by the City University of New York. The 5 percent of neighborhoods with the lowest response rates were, on average, 54-percent minority. The rest of the country as a whole is 30-percent minority.

When it comes to states, many of those most in jeopardy of losing U.S. House seats – a number of them clustered around the Great Lakes – had some of the best response rates in the country. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia topped the charts.

This is especially important because the housing crisis has slowed the population growth of many Sun Belt states, and because many of those states also have below-average census response rates. Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Georgia all were expected to gain seats, but each had 70 percent or lower mail-in participation rates.

An inaccurate headcount can cost communities more than just political clout. A study by a census oversight board following the 2000 count said the country’s 58 largest counties would lose out on a combined $3.6 billion over the decade in funds distributed by population formula, more than $2,900 per person.

“Every person missed,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, “is that much less federal resources for everything from schools and medical services to resources to pave the streets.”

Korean translation errors on 2010 Census form irk some in New York

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

We must have missed the following report when it was originally published two weeks ago. Nonetheless, it is still interesting to learn about these problems as MyTwoCensus.com has repeatedly criticized the Census Bureau and its contractor Diplomatic Language Services for doing a shoddy job. Thanks to the Queens Courier in New York for the following:

Slam errors in census forms

Koreans, Chinese, Latinos complain

BY VICTOR G. MIMONI
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 2:06 PM EDT

Assemblymember Grace Meng says she’s “angered” over translation errors in the Korean version of 2010 census forms and communications trouble on the Census’ language hotline.

Meng is one of several lawmakers who have called on the Asian community to respond to the census forms. “We have stated over and over again that our schools, hospitals, housing, transportation, police and other services depend on the census,” she said.

But now, constituents have told her that where the English language form asks for “County,” the Korean form asks “Country;” instead of “State” the Korean form asks “Province.”

“It’s confusing. In Asia, ‘Province’ has a specific meaning,” she said, speculating that people who get stumped on a question might not mail in the form.

Meng also complained that some Chinese and Koreans in her district said that the persons on the hotline “do not speak their native language fluently.”

“Someone didn’t understand ‘House Number’ and the help line operator could only explain what ‘house’ and ‘number’ meant,” Meng recounted. “They couldn’t or wouldn’t explain that it meant the address,” she said.

Northeast Queens Census Supervisor Nan Min was distressed. “I heard about the forms – they came out of Washington months ago,” she said, powerless to do anything about it. Min explained that the toll free help number directs to the Washington, D.C. area.

“We have a local help line number – 347-783-1049 – that is staffed with people from around Flushing,” said Min, who is fluent in Korean, Spanish and Portuguese.

“We have speakers of at least four of the more popular Chinese dialects, Korean and other languages spoken around this area,” she added. “We’ve been working hard – we’re 10 percent ahead of the response in the last census.”

Some people, especially in the Hispanic community, have expressed confusion about questions 8 and 9, relating to “origin” and “race,” but Min explained that you can check all boxes that apply to you. “We want you to self-identify – write-in or check off what it takes to describe yourself.”

“I can’t comment on that,” regional census supervisor Patricia Valle told The Queens Courier, promising to contact the supervisors at the language hotline.

Census forms in Spanish prove difficult to find

Friday, March 26th, 2010

The following report comes from JCOnline.com in Lafayette, Indiana:

By Curt Slyder

Mida Grover is the Hispanic/Latino liaison for Lafayette School Corp. It’s her job to reach out to families in the school district who speak Spanishbut might not speak English.

Since the U.S. Census Bureau recently began mailing 2010 census forms to people throughout the country, families she works with have been getting theirs — in English only.

That led several families to contact her, asking her what they could do ahead of the April 1 population count of all people in the United States.

“I’ve also alerted people in other buildings in the district to be prepared for people coming in there,” she said.

That concerns Lafayette City Clerk Cindy Murray, co-chairwoman of Tippecanoe County Complete Count Committee. “People don’t know where to go, what to do,” she said.

Though census forms are available in six languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian — finding out where to get a form in a language other than English has been a problem.

That is especially troubling, local officials have said, as they try to get as many people counted here as possible. Spanish-speaking households have been a particular target for the Complete Count Committee, as the community’s Hispanic estimated population has increased since the last census in 2000.

In Tippecanoe County, the Hispanic population grew from 7,834 in 2000 to 12,020 in 2008, according to U.S. Census estimates. That was a 53 percent increase. The Hispanic population is 7.3 percent of Tippecanoe County’s total, according to those estimates. That’s up from 5.3 percent in 2000.

Similar stories can be told about surrounding counties. In Clinton County, the estimated Hispanic population grew 89 percent between 2000 and 2008. In White County, it was up 39 percent. In Montgomery County, it was up 110 percent.

The federal census office mailed out forms based on data from the 2000 census, according to Jim Powell, office manager at the local U.S. Census Office in Market Square Shopping Center. His office oversees Tippecanoe and 16 other nearby counties.

(To continue reading click here.)

Update: Errors in Burmese Translations

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

On March 8, MyTwoCensus posted a story that explained that there were errors in the translations of the Burmese 2010 Census documents  — and documents translated into other languages as well.

Burmese scholars Julian Wheatley of MIT and San San Hnin Tun of Cornell University took the time to correct the errors and re-translate the Burmese documents. The major mistakes are addressed here on the corrected Burmese translation of the 2010 Census form that the two professors created. (There are also questions of standard vs non-standard spellings and some usage changes that the pair has observed, but did not incorporate into the final product, as these are not true errors.)

Perhaps if the Census Bureau consulted experts in the way that I did, these translation errors would have never occurred in the first place.

Do Spanish speakers get an extra month to complete their forms?

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

UPDATE: All BE COUNTED forms, intended for people may not have received 2010 Census forms when they were supposed to, are to be returned by May 1, regardless of what language the forms have been printed in. Thanks to our readers for clarifying.

H/t to Denise Poon who created last week’s article series for Spot.us for bringing the following to my attention:

Census Day is undoubtedly April 1, 2010…so why does this 2010 Census form tell Spanish-speakers that they have until May 1 to return it? Was this a printing error? A translation error? An operational error? A double standard? MyTwoCensus has contacted the Census Bureau about this case and hopes to hear an answer very soon.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Conclusive Evidence That Burmese Translations For 2010 Census Are Wrong!

Monday, March 8th, 2010

UPDATE: The Census Bureau conducted business in early 2009 with an outside consulting firm to evaluate the accuracy of 2010 Census forms in four languages (Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese). Additionally, here is some further evidence of problems from an external report (available in full HERE):

Errors were discovered in the Vietnamese-language materials, including the sample
Vietnamese Census Form.  The Bureau had been inconsistent in their word choice for “census,”
using both “điều tra” and “thống kê” interchangeably.  For the Vietnamese community, “điều
tra” or “government investigation” carries a negative connotation because it is associated with
the communist regime.  While the Bureau recently fixed the online form, it is uncertain whether
the corrections will appear in the printed census forms.

In February, after being tipped off about translation errors on the Census Bureau’s foreign language forms, MyTwoCensus set out to conduct an investigation into Diplomatic Language Services, the firm that was contracted to conduct all translations for the 2010 Census. Our Freedom Of Information Act request has not yet been answered, so we started to contact leading foreign language scholars to translate forms for us and judge the quality of translations.

One minority group that will suffer terribly because of poor translations is America’s Burmese community. Though there isn’t much reliable data on the Burmese-American community, a cursory read of the group’s Wikipedia entry reveals that “According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 16,720 persons of Burmese descent resided in the United States. That number is estimated to have risen to at least 50,000 today because of the large number of Burmese people seeking political asylum.”

Regarding the Burmese translation (available HERE), Julian Wheatley, who serves as the President of the Burma Studies Foundation and works in the Department of Foreign Languages & Literature at MIT told us,  “There are some usage problems, which probably arose because the original translator stuck too close to the English. More obvious, one paragraph has been repeated. Towards the end, well into the second page, you’ll see the phrase (2010 Census) in parentheses. Above it is a small three line paragraph, and the two longer paragraphs above that — you’ll see them — are identical (one in bold, one normal). Presumably that is not as intended.”

This investigation is ongoing. If you or anyone you know has noticed poor language translations on a 2010 Census form, we encourage you to contact us with specific information.

Indigenous immigrants to be counted for first time

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Indigenous immigrants — Native Americans from Central America and Mexico — will be counted for the first time on the 2010 Census.

ABC News has the full story from the Associated Press, which reports that these immigrants often need to check multiple boxes to describe their background. Language barriers and a lack of trust in the government are also obstacles:

The Census Bureau wants to change that in the 2010 count as it tallies immigrant indigenous groups for the first time ever, hoping to get a more complete snapshot of a growing segment of the immigrant population.

In the 2010 Census, the bureau will tabulate handwritten entries specifying that the respondent belongs to a Central American indigenous group such Maya, Nahua, Mixtec, or Purepecha. The list of different populations that end up being counted will be made public when results are released in 2011, said Michele Lowe, spokeswoman for the Census Bureau.

“We’re always striving to present an accurate portrait of the American people, and this is part of that effort,” said Lowe.

An accurate count is important to the indigenous groups themselves, and to the federal government, which allocates resources to state and local government according to the results.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates indigenous migrants make up about 17 percent of the country’s farm workers, and may represent up to 30 percent of California’s farm worker population. Florida also has a large indigenous immigrant population.

Update: More Languages In Advance Letters

Friday, October 9th, 2009

If you’re interested in reading more information about the recent policy shift at the Census Bureau to distribute advance letters about the 2010 Census in multiple languages, check out the following documents:

Advance Letter from Robert M. Groves in multiple languages

Letter from Robert M. Groves explaining policy changes to leaders of minority organizations.

Trouble Brewing in California

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The following is a letter from the state of California’s 2010 Census office to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in Washington. (In other related news, 2010 Census boycotts have kick-started in California):

September 28, 2009

Director Katague Sends Letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Locke on Advance Letter

Director Ditas Katague today sent the following letter to Secretary Gary Locke urging reconsideration of the U.S. Census Bureau’s English-only Advance Letter policy:

September 28, 2009

The Honorable Gary Locke

Secretary of Commerce

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue, Northwest

Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Locke:

It has come to my attention that the U.S. Census Bureau has made the policy decision to send the Advance Letter in English-only in March 2010.  The Advance Letter is one of the first official communications coming directly from the U.S. Census Bureau for the decennial census.  By not including any in-language instructions or messages, I believe you are missing a huge opportunity to engage limited or non-proficient English speaking households in preparing them for the arrival of the census questionnaire.

I strongly urge you to reconsider this decision, as this decision risks completely missing the opportunity to communicate with those Hard-to-Count populations in our state.  Hundreds of languages other than English are spoken at home in California.  Based on 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) data, only 19,646,489 out of more than 30 million Californians speak only English .  That leaves millions and millions of California residents that could effectively not receive advance notice of the decennial census.

Lastly, we believe that any investment in sending a multi-lingual Advance Letter to Californians will ultimately serve to increase the Mail Back Response Rate (MRR), which will decrease the amount of Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) the Bureau conducts.  This could save valuable time and taxpayer money.

Again, I strongly urge you to reconsider your English-only Advance Letter policy immediately so that operations are not impacted and to ensure all Californians are counted.

Respectfully,

Ditas Katague
Director, 2010 Census Statewide Outreach

Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

cc:     The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

The Honorable Diane Feinstein

The Honorable Barbara Boxer

Robert Groves, U.S. Census Bureau Director

B16001. LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME BY ABILITY TO SPEAK ENGLISH FOR THE POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER

Universe:  POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER

Data Set: 2008 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

San Francisco vs. The U.S. Census Bureau

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

H/t to the San Francisco Chronicle:

City Hall takes on the U.S. Census — again!

Squaring off against the U.S. Census is nothing new for City Hall officials – and they’re doing it again this week over the “advanced letter” the census sends all U.S. residents explaining the census questionnaire several weeks before they get the real thing.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera wants the U.S. Census to have a heartPaul Chinn/The Chronicle

In 2000, the advanced letter was sent in a variety of languages including Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean and Tagalog. But in February, the letter will go out in English only, with Spanish versions included in some census tracts.

That means a lot of San Francisco’s 325,000 residents who speak a language other than English may not understand what to do with the census questionnaire. And that means they may skip it altogether, go uncounted and cause the city to lose out on federal money.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera and David Chiu, president of the Board of Supervisors, have sent a letter to the census asking that it reconsider its policy change. Chiu also introduced legislation at the board calling for an inclusive advanced letter.

The city has a long history of waging battles against the census. In the 1970s, Chinese residents sued over an undercount in Chinatown. In 1990, the city sued over another undercount. In 2000, the city said the census undercounted by a whopping 100,000 people – causing the San Francisco to lose out on $30 million a year in federal funds. (The census compromised, giving the city another 34,209 people.)

Sonny Le, a media specialist with the census, said nothing about the advanced letter has been finalized. We asked him numerous times why the language change had been floated in the first place, and he couldn’t give an answer, only saying it was “a combination of different things.”