Bilingual Text Messaging Translation: Translating Text Messages From English Into Spanish for the Text4Walking Program

JMIR Res Protoc. 2015 May 6;4(2):e51. doi: 10.2196/resprot.3984.


Background: Hispanic adults in the United States are at particular risk for diabetes and inadequate blood pressure control. Physical activity improves these health problems; however Hispanic adults also have a low rate of recommended aerobic physical activity. To address improving physical inactivity, one area of rapidly growing technology that can be utilized is text messaging (short message service, SMS). A physical activity research team, Text4Walking, had previously developed an initial database of motivational physical activity text messages in English that could be used for physical activity text messaging interventions. However, the team needed to translate these existing English physical activity text messages into Spanish in order to have culturally meaningful and useful text messages for those adults within the Hispanic population who would prefer to receive text messages in Spanish.

Objective: The aim of this study was to translate a database of English motivational physical activity messages into Spanish and review these text messages with a group of Spanish speaking adults to inform the use of these text messages in an intervention study.

Methods: The consent form and study documents, including the existing English physical activity text messages, were translated from English into Spanish, and received translation certification as well as Institutional Review Board approval. The translated text messages were placed into PowerPoint, accompanied by a set of culturally appropriate photos depicting barriers to walking, as well as walking scenarios. At the focus group, eligibility criteria for this study included being an adult between 30 to 65 years old who spoke Spanish as their primary language. After a general group introduction, participants were placed into smaller groups of two or three. Each small group was asked to review a segment of the translated text messages for accuracy and meaningfulness. After the break out, the group was brought back together to review the text messages.

Results: A translation confirmation group met at a church site in an urban community with a large population of Hispanics. Spanish speaking adults (N=8), with a mean age of 40 (SD 6.3), participated in the study. Participants were engaged in the group and viewed the text messages as culturally appropriate. They also thought that text messages could motivate them to walk more. Twenty-two new text messages were added to the original database of 246 translated text messages. While the text messages were generally understood, specific word preferences were seen related to personal preference, dialect, and level of formality which resulted in minor revisions to four text messages.

Conclusions: The English text messages were successfully translated into Spanish by a bilingual research staff and reviewed by Hispanic participants in order to inform the use of these text messages for future intervention studies. These Spanish text messages were recently used in a Text4Walking intervention study.

Keywords: exercise; focus groups; language; mobile phone; text messaging; translating.