Is Texting and Instant Messaging Ruining the English Language?
Posted September 25, 2011on:
I recently watched David Crystal’s talk Tweets and Texts – Myths and Realities. Crystal attempts to dispell the top five myths regarding texting and tweeting, stating that “technology is not the enemy.” I found his information very interesting. I have been thinking about two of the myths in particular – that texts and tweets are full of new abbreviations and a new-fangled language that is negatively impacting our ability to use the English language, and that texting is ruining young people’s ability to spell and use correct grammar. Crystal feels that both statements are myths, but I will argue that one, in my experience, is seemingly a reality.
Crystal had me hooked when he said that technology is not the enemy. I have been witness to teachers who treat technology as the enemy and not only refuse to use it in the classroom, but also refuse to embrace the fact that it is not going to go away! Students often DO know more about technology than their teachers, and that may be unnerving to some, but it is a fact that they should accept. I liked how Crystal compared today’s technology to yesterday’s inventions. Texting and tweeting is a more (rather, MUCH more) efficient version of a telegram. A message was relayed through very few characters – that is nothing new. Those who argue that texting’s abbreviated method of writing is ruining the English language forget that telegrams and secretaries’ shorthand writing is much the same. Crystal also said that we needn’t worry that everyone will begin writing in abbreviations, as only 10% of text messages are abbreviated anyway. Crystal also gave some interesting information pertaining to this “new-fangled abbreviated language” that many people are worried will ruin the English language. He said that abbreviating words, such as “C U l8r” is nothing new. Victorian parlour games were based on rebus puzzles much the same as these text abbreviations. I give my students different rebus puzzles each week to solve, and now that I look at them, they ARE very similar to text abbreviations! I was discussing this talk with some of my teacher friends, and one who teaches Information Processing to grade 9 and 10 students said that she had them complete a typing test. One student said that she could type the test entirely abbreviated, text-style. My friend said that she flew through the test and abbreviated it all in a record amount of time. We both agreed that her abbreviated texting was not to worry about – her efficiently would have been applauded in a secretarial position when typing everything in shorthand was required!
Crystal argues that texting and tweeting need not be seen as something damaging to the English language. He gave examples of how Lewis Carroll used to play with language in his writing, and poets of days past used to create amazing images and ideas in short passages of text. He said that teachers should use texting and tweeting in the classroom in creative ways, such as challenging students to write a poem in only 140 characters. There are some examples of this on Twitter, and I checked some out and was very impressed! When I teach my poetry unit this year, rather than simply having the students write a haiku, I’m going to have them write a Text Poem as well!
The one myth that Crystal presents that I must argue is that texting and tweeting is damaging students’ ability to spell and use proper grammar. Crystal says that this is a myth, and that students actually ARE aware of the difference between text speak and spelling, and grammatically correct language. I must disagree. I am aware that I have only been teaching for seven years, so most of my students have been on instant messengers or texting since I began teaching. Their spelling may not be as affected, but their grammar definitely is. Each year, as more students own cell phones and use instant messenger and Facebook more often, I see a decline in the use of capital letters and punctuation. Capitalizing “I” and names is particularly bad. I often see students using “u” , “ur”, “r”, and even “lol” in their daily writing. Thinking that my experiences were maybe an exception, I asked several of my friends who are teachers (ranging from teaching grade 5 to adult education) if they had found a decline in their students’ grammar or spelling, and if they think that the decline is related to texting and messaging. (Incidentally, I sent this message over Facebook at 10pm and had a number of replies by morning, showing the efficiency of social media!). Every one of their replies stated that they had seen a dramatic decline in students’ ability to use grammar and punctuation correctly. A few, but not all, said that spelling had gotten worse, but everyone was in agreement that capitalization and punctuation was a constant struggle in their classrooms.
In discussing this issue through many messages, my friends and I agreed that texting is not a trend that is going to simply die out. Thus, we must work WITH it! I have found that the best way to combat my students’ lack of capitalization, punctuation, and inappropriate use of text abbreviations in formal writing is to teach them not to do it! It sounds simple and no, it is NOT fixed in one lesson, but if one is consistent, I think that it can definitely help the problem. I use my students’ spelling words in grammatically incorrect sentences on the board a few times a week. I often include abbreviations, uncapitalized pronouns, and “text speak” in my examples. When the students consistently see these errors being corrected, I’m hoping that they will pick up on how to use them correctly. I also show them examples of answers to questions on my blog that are done correctly. When a student writes a grammatically, correctly spelled response to one of the blog questions, I will show it to them and positively praise that student. That way, they can see that proper writing mechanics also must be used online in certain circumstances. I also teach them when it is appropriate to use text-style abbreviations and language, and when to avoid it. I compare it to answering the telephone. You may greet someone in real life saying, “Hey, what’s up?” but would you answer the phone that way if you did not know who was calling? I feel that it IS possible to teach students the difference between the two forms of language.
Have you found a decline in your students’ usage of grammar, punctuation, and spelling with the rise of texting and instant messaging? If so, what do you do to combat this issue?