ZOMG: Text-speak and tweens: Notso gr8 4 riting skillz

A new study in New Media & Society suggests that texting — with its abbreviations and grammatical shortcuts — undermines students’ writing skills.

The “Texting, Techspeak, and Tweens” study by S. Shyam Sundar, founding director of Penn State’s Media Effects Research Laboratory, and Drew P. Cingel, a doctoral student at Northwestern University, examined “whether increased use of text messaging engender greater reliance on such ‘textual adaptations’ to the point of altering one’s sense of written grammar.”

The pair tested students in a Pennsylvania middle school. Their conclusion: “Results show broad support for a general negative relationship between the use of tech-speak in text messages and scores on a grammar assessment, with implications for Social Cognitive Theory and Low-Road/High-Road Theory of Transfer of Learning.”

According to Education Week:

Moreover, the more often a student received text messages using tech-speak, the more likely he or she was to send messages using that language. There was no gender difference after accounting for the amount of texting each student did, though teenage girls have been found in other studies to send and receive nearly twice as many messages per month as boys do: 4,050 texts on average, compared with 2,539.

Mr. Cingel started the project after receiving texts from his young nieces “that, for me, were incomprehensible,” he said in a statement. “I had to call them and ask them, ‘What are you trying to tell me?’”

While texting has caused consternation among educators and parents since the 1990s for distracted writing as well as driving, changing communication technology historically has changed the way people speak and write over time. That journalistic standard, the inverted pyramid structure (write the most important thing first, the second most important thing second, and so on) developed in the telegraph era, when reporters’ stories often were cut off mid-transition. Similarly, the need to respond quickly and briefly in text messages—and the outright character limit in social media like Twitter—puts pressure on students to cut out any unnecessary sounds. In fact, some studies have found students who text frequently are better at spelling and identifying homophones, as they have to, to turn “great” into “gr8.”

“People get creative in terms of trying to express a lot. The economy of expression forces us to take shortcuts with our expression. We know people are texting in a hurry, they are on mobile devices, and so they are making these compromises,” Mr. Sundar said. “It’s not surprising that grammar is taking a back seat in that context. What is worrisome is it somehow seems to transfer over to their offline grammar skills. They are not code-switching offline.”

In that way, students who use tech-speak differ from those who speak multiple languages; multilingual children have been found to switch back and forth easily among their languages in different contexts and may actually be more flexible in other ways of thinking. Tech-speak is similar enough to standard English that researchers believe it may bleed over into different contexts more easily.

“Ultimately it’s not seen as a different language, so they kind of get used to communicating English language this way, the more they try to generalize what they do in texting to the normal grammatical rules of writing,” Mr. Sundar said.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

82 comments Add your comment

Chunter

July 31st, 2012
10:41 am

Mr. Cingel seems to have neglected mentioning any disproportionate undermining of minorities’ language skills in all this. Perhaps text-speak is the missing link neatly explaining problems at inner-city schools?

And more: http://tinyurl.com/c9macks

Dr. Monica Henson

July 31st, 2012
11:06 am

I see the use of textspeak as an opportunity to teach grammar in the context of students’ own writing, which is a best practice promoted by the National Council of Teachers of English. For example, a daily written language activity could be that the teacher posts a sentence in textspeak, then has student volunteers come to the front to translate the sentence into Standard Written English. “Gr8″ is a fantastic opportunity for renewing students’ understanding of homophones.

I don’t see it as the collapse of civilization, but rather as another chance to make language learning relevant for students. We heard the same dire predictions about rap music lyrics, but I found no better way to teach high schoolers rhyme scheme and meter than having them parse out the metrical feet in lines of Will Smith’s and Eminem’s (edited, of course) lyrics as a “hook” activity for introducing them to Shakespearean iambic pentameter.

Michele

July 31st, 2012
11:09 am

Well, DUH! Students of this generation are losing control of their language skills across the board because of this ridiculous text-speak. In California, some school systems have already mandated that teachers have to accept text-speak in grading essays and short answer responses. This will only end up making American students the idiots of the world. America continues to fall farther and farther behind the rest of the World in education. Let’s keep going in that direction and we will lose our leadership role to other countries who truly respect education and educators for their importance. The text-speak dummies will surely lose out and be left behind. So Sad!

Bernie

July 31st, 2012
11:11 am

Chunter @ 10:41 am – interesting how one zeroes in specifically on the problems of the inner school children and their many failures.. The point that you obviously missed and failed to recognize. Possibly due to an already preconceived opinion, is that the study is revealing a trend of over whelming use of texting by ALL students regardless of Race or class is impacted across the board.

The missing link you were referring too, just may well be in your thinking.

Michele

July 31st, 2012
11:14 am

re; Dr. Henson. Do you truly believe that students who are allowed to use text-speak will survive in law school? If you were truly interested in stretching the minds of your students you would be better off having them learn Latin or other world-accepted languages that would challenge them in using context skills and sentence structure, as well as spelling.

Beverly Fraud

July 31st, 2012
11:16 am

Well since tweens like to text, and it CAN be used as a way to model good grammar, the responsibility should be CLEARLY on the teacher to model such by texting to students (and their parents so that they may feel comfortable with the process) on a daily basis.

Of course we MUST respect that teachers have a personal life as well; therefore teachers should only be required to send five text messages a day to each student, modeling proper grammar.

The “effective” teacher would embrace this of course, those who make misguided claims that it’s asking too much of teachers should of course be “counseled” out of the profession.

Jack

July 31st, 2012
11:24 am

Writing skills were a lost art long before texting arrived. Math skills are safe, though: kids can’t short-cut algebra.

William Casey

July 31st, 2012
11:24 am

Until texting loses its status appeal, it will simply be another distraction from real social interaction. As for writing, “forget about it!”

Dr. Monica Henson

July 31st, 2012
11:25 am

Michele, why should kids not learn both? I see textspeak as a tool to elicit student engagement so that the teacher can then help students achieve a deeper understanding of Standard Written English. Why should that preclude instruction in Latin roots, sentence structure, etc.? Don’t fall victim to the either/or fallacy of thinking. There’s room enough in the big language tent for a lot of different kinds of expression. Teaching students to be multilingual in them is part of the responsibility of teachers. We can ignore textspeak in our classrooms, wring our hands & bemoan it, or we can seize it and use it as a teaching tool.

Richard

July 31st, 2012
11:33 am

Dr. Henson,

Could you please provide some guidance as to how to handle the following events:

1. Employees using text speak within their business emails.
2. A girl I’m on a date with using text speak in her actual spoken language.

Also, I’m a bit confused as to how you can equate text speak to “multilingual”. I wasn’t aware “lol” was part of a recognized language.

Dr. Monica Henson

July 31st, 2012
11:44 am

Scoff away…if we ignore & bemoan, it’s not going to change a darned thing that kids are doing in their own technology universe. “Lol,” “gr8,” and the like are viable pieces of text to kids through young adulthood–it’s the coin of their technology realm. We can use these phenomena to our instructional advantage and take them to deeper understanding of standard English (with the hope that they’ll actually use it in the appropriate contexts), or we can remain remote, aloof, irrelevant annoyances to contemporary students.

Dr. Monica Henson

July 31st, 2012
11:50 am

“Recognized language” is code for intellectual snobbery. English itself was once viewed, in England, as the language of the vulgar, common people who couldn’t speak, read, or write French or Latin. Language is an organic entity, continuously evolving. What better way for students to learn this truth than to start by examining and analyzing their own jargon? I used to use the phrase “My bad” to teach both at-risk low-level freshman and AP Language & Composition students the concept of ellipsis. Whatever works, use it with no apologies.

bootney farnsworth

July 31st, 2012
11:51 am

@ richard

1-tell them to use correct grammar or find a new job.

2-unless she is stunningly beautiful enough to endure the vacuum between her ears, dump her.

bootney farnsworth

July 31st, 2012
11:52 am

bring back ebonics, Monica!

bootney farnsworth

July 31st, 2012
11:53 am

@ william

especially with the deliberate de-emphasis on humanities.
writing? who needs it?

what’s important is: can they play football?

t

July 31st, 2012
11:56 am

When i was a teen i liked to write using text shorthand. I never thought it appropriate to transfer that into school work or in day-to-day conversation. Kids are smart and realize that at a certain age they need to speak and write like adults. Using slang even more shouldn’t be encouraged.

Ivan

July 31st, 2012
12:20 pm

“A new study in New Media & Society suggests that texting — with its abbreviations and grammatical shortcuts — undermines students’ writing skills.”

Half the problem seems to be people need an actual study to realize this.

Wondering Allowed

July 31st, 2012
12:25 pm

@DrHenson –

You wrote, “I see the use of textspeak as an opportunity to teach grammar in the context of students’ own writing, which is a best practice promoted by the National Council of Teachers of English.” With all due respect, your statement really just makes me laugh. It’s a prime example of the academic nonsense that has failed our children for the past thirty or so years. It is laughable, yet so sad at the same time. It encapsulates the problems that have caused failure.

We need to get rid of the “educators” that want to create, follow or try out the latest trend. We need to pay some of the best and the brightest to go into the classrooms and provide straight forward education. We need to go back to the education system of the 1950s where teachers were respected, children knew what to expect in a professional classroom and everyone was held up to a high standard. The touchy feely trendy slogans, be it No Child Left Behind or the You With the F Are Still Achieving, only serve to create more central office paper pushers and, time and time again, fail the students.

Students who need extra help on a topic or need guidance on how to succeed in a classroom should be given access to tutors. We should help them to get the skills needed to succeed, not change the meaning of success so that their failures are now defined as passing. We do those students absolutely no favors when we lower standards or even move to their level, as opposed to helping them move to a level where success is possible. In their actions, educators who communicate on this unacceptable level do not enforce that the level is unacceptable; instead, by using that type of communication the students see that it is not only acceptable, but will allow them to communicate with whomever they want. Why, then, should anyone be surprised when those students go out into the real world and fail, because they are not communicating in a professional manner?

Straight forward, clear learning worked before, and if students, teachers and parents were disciplined, it would work again.

Wondering Allowed

July 31st, 2012
12:43 pm

Another thing, since I’m on a rant….

No think tank theory matters as much as the teacher in the classroom. If we had bright people capable of getting students to understand, we wouldn’t need theories.

It’s the difference between unskilled factory workers who need to be told what to do versus a skilled carpenter who will build a masterpiece based on his innate skill and experience, without prefab plans.

We are paying for the equivalent of unskilled labor in the classroom and we are shocked when this unskilled labor doesn’t create masterpieces.

It’s not just the theories that are horrid, and it’s not just the paper pushers who are a waste, but it’s how we treat the teaching profession that needs to change. Granted, despite the low pay we sometimes get altruistic fantastic educators, but those are the exception, not the norm. For the most part, we get what we pay for.

Ace

July 31st, 2012
12:48 pm

Young kids and teenagers can’t talk without using the word like, its a reflection on their parents and teachers who should correct them for talking jibberish. After all, it is ignorance.

Ashley

July 31st, 2012
12:52 pm

How can you expect students to take writing seriously, when it isn’t even consider part of the requirements for the HOPE Scholarship, the 1200 only pertains to math/verbal even though writing makes up one-third of the SAT. Now we want to lower academic standards by somehow thinking text-speak is the way to go, diminishing writing and speaking techniques might work in the classroom, but I assure you it want work in the real world.

Jefferson

July 31st, 2012
12:56 pm

Kids raising kids.

Leeroy

July 31st, 2012
1:08 pm

Correlation =/= causation. To be fair, though, cell phones and texting were in their infancy when I had graduated from HS.

I’m one of those who never uses “text speak” unless I’m being sarcastic/snarky/etc. 140 character limit be damned; if it’s something that lengthy, I simply use my phone to…well, call somebody. You know, that feature that phones have had since the 20th century.

Frankie

July 31st, 2012
1:26 pm

just as stupid as the whole ebonics rants…
learn to speak proper english or shut up…

SGA Teacher

July 31st, 2012
1:28 pm

And when these students try to use “Text Speak” on the GHSGT-Writing, they will fail, and when they try to use “Text Speak” on a college essay, they will fail.

I will laugh, like I normally do, when I warn my students of these dangerous practices. Then, when all of their friends are graduating from high school, I will show them a nice place to sit in the stands so they can watch.

Oh well. I am really tired of putting out watering troughs and watching folks die of thirst if you get the analogy.

Holly Jones

July 31st, 2012
1:31 pm

I’m sure that every generation of teachers has had to deal with “slang” of one kind or another. The difference is in how they dealt with it. I’m sure no teacher in my parents’ day would have accepted the slang of the era (late 50’s- early 60’s) in written work. I wasn’t allowed to use “totally”, “gag me with a spoon” and all the other “Valley Girl” speak of my generation at home much less in my classwork. Somehow, we learned what was appropriate in what setting. That lesson seems lost or not even addressed these days- from how to dress to how to speak in certain settings. I will instill in my kids when it’s okay to “LOL” and when it’s not. Both parents and teachers need to take the lead and show kids what is appropriate and what is not. It’s not rocket science.

Ivan

July 31st, 2012
1:34 pm

Maureen,

FYI.
You probably could have emphasized your point more with further exaggeration in the title.

“ZOMG!!11 Text-speak and tweens: Notso gr8 4 teh riting skillz!110ne

Jessica

July 31st, 2012
1:47 pm

Using text-speak outside of text messages shows a lack of respect for yourself and others. If you don’t care enough to at least TRY to communicate clearly, why should anyone else take your words seriously?

Mountain Man

July 31st, 2012
1:57 pm

The one thin that drives me crazy in the blogs is the use of the word “your” for “you’re”. Sometimes I blame that on texting, since it is harder to text the apostrophe ( of course, you coule just leave out the apostrophe and text “youre”). Maybe it is not texting, maybe the kids just didn’t learn the difference between your and you’re. I know a lot of bloggers don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re. And I am not an English teacher!

Mountain Man

July 31st, 2012
1:58 pm

thing, not thin. Could, not coule. Maybe I should proof-read before hitting send.

Ivan Cohen

July 31st, 2012
2:01 pm

Writing skills will go out of the window. Text-speak will be used in advertising for all products used by consumers from automobiles to paper towels and then some. The movies will have text-speak in their subtitles. Who is going to pay $5.00 or more to see characters on screen text each other? Let us fast forward to the year 2050, now the President of the United States holds his or her state of the union addresses and press conferences in text-speak. Americans don’t keep a “good thing” to themselves, so one can anticipate this text-speak being exported to other countries. Heaven help us all.

Dr. Monica Henson

July 31st, 2012
2:03 pm

Jessica: “Using text-speak outside of text messages shows a lack of respect for yourself and others. If you don’t care enough to at least TRY to communicate clearly, why should anyone else take your words seriously?”

Precisely, and well-stated. This is why it is so important to engage students in the study of Standard English–to give them the ability to communicate clearly with those who expect them to be able to do so. This ability is fundamental to employability in most careers.

As the study Maureen references states, “Tech-speak is similar enough to standard English that researchers believe it may bleed over into different contexts more easily.” Teachers (and parents, if they can/will) have to help students put different forms of language into the proper contexts to help them gain facility with Standard English.

“Ultimately it’s not seen as a different language, so they kind of get used to communicating English language this way, the more they try to generalize what they do in texting to the normal grammatical rules of writing,” Mr. Sundar said. Using analysis of textspeak & translating it into Standard Written English as a “hook” activity not only would engage students’ interest by meeting them where they are–it opens the door for deeper discussion and putting the study of Standard English into the context of employability.

Those who take my comments as an argument “in favor of” textspeak are missing the point altogether. I can’t stand it and don’t use it when I text. My distaste for it doesn’t, however, prevent me from seeing it for what it can be–a way to unlock the mental door for many students who might otherwise yawn and daydream their way through a “boring English lesson.” If you can’t engage them, you can’t teach them much at all.

Digger

July 31st, 2012
2:13 pm

There is no need to learn to read or write, really. Or do math for that matter.There is, or soon will be, an app for that.

bootney farnsworth

July 31st, 2012
2:26 pm

we don’t need no proper english educations
grammar is just thought control
text spk is jus fine n da clsrum
hey! english teachers! leave them rules alone!

all is all its just slang txt on ur wall

Beverly Fraud

July 31st, 2012
2:26 pm

Can we please stop the lie that “changing technology” or “Twitter character limits” are the cause for the grammatical shortcuts you see in texting and put the blame where it SQUARELY belongs:

Poor teaching. Teachers who have not instilled a LOVE of grammar.

It’s a well-known fact that students of EFFECTIVE teachers don’t take grammatical shortcuts when texting. Therefore the solution is clear. We need to bolster the staffs of central office, so that they may provide the additional training needed so that teachers can once again instill the love of grammar.

Of course in these times of tight budgets teachers cannot be expected to be compensated for the additional training, considering the money that is needed to increase the central office staff.

Indeed teachers should be grateful for the additional training and should be WILLING TO FUND the increase in central office personnel by having a small percentage of their salary deducted (no more than 3-5%) for the training.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask, given the appalling state of grammar seen in texts, for teachers to give up 7-10 of their summer, and Saturdays during the school year, to undergo the required training.

Those who would balk CLEARLY do not understand what it means to be “effective” and should be immediately counseled out of the profession.

Maureen Downey

July 31st, 2012
2:27 pm

@Ivan, I like it. See headline change.
Maureen

bootney farnsworth

July 31st, 2012
2:35 pm

@ Beverly

in one point, I disagree. while I understand you conceptually, teachers already have to do so much for so little with zero support that 7-10 additional unpaid days is just too much.

we already give too much of our selves, our time, and our own personal pockets for an -at best- indifferent system. if the state has so little value for our efforts…

Don't Tread

July 31st, 2012
2:35 pm

Who needs writing skills (or any other job skill for that matter) when you can just vote Democrat and have the productve people (who bothered to get an education and a job) taxed more to support you forever as your reward?

catlady

July 31st, 2012
2:39 pm

“ZOMG: Text-speak and tweens: Notso gr8 4 riting skillz”

U think?

Dr. Monica Henson

July 31st, 2012
2:48 pm

Love the headline change!

Dr. Monica Henson

July 31st, 2012
2:50 pm

I’m live-tweeting today from the Common Core Summit for Georgia Administrators at the Macon Coliseum. In the high school session, speaker Mel Riddile just noted that spelling will be a new focus under CCGPS.

redweather

July 31st, 2012
3:15 pm

“Recognized language” is code for intellectual snobbery.

Ms. Henson, U R full of beans.

Ivan

July 31st, 2012
3:28 pm

Maureen,

Well done. Bravo!

Leeroy

July 31st, 2012
3:37 pm

lol @ headline change

NONPC

July 31st, 2012
3:45 pm

I see the use of textspeak as an opportunity to teach grammar in the context of students’ own writing, which is a best practice promoted by the National Council of Teachers of English.

What a crock! I hope this person doesn’t truly have a Doctorate, or our children are doomed. When my kids are learning grammar at home (spoken), we correct until they get it right. We don’t teach them grammar “in the context of their own speaking”. We teach them that what they said is WRONG, and HERE is the correct way to say it (of course, not that harshly). We do it by speaking it correctly, and NEVER accepting poor grammar. Teaching grammar in the context of their own writing lends validity to the text-speak crapola. There should be NO validity of this pseudo language except on a cell phone.

As far as “engaging” students via text speak to teach them… more bunk. People don’t get to engage the world on their own terms. Until you make your place in the world, terms are dictated… by teachers, employers, coworkers, business conditions. Allowing students to engage on their own terms sends a life-crushing precedent. When you go into someone else’ classroom, or business, or bid on a contract, etc., you engage on THEIR terms or you lose. You don’t get to make the rules.

You don’t engage children in baby-talk and babble in order to teach them how to speak. You don’t engage students in test-speak in order to teach them to write.

Mountain Man

July 31st, 2012
3:48 pm

OK someone clue me in here – what is ZOMG?

Mountain Man

July 31st, 2012
3:53 pm

One thing about textspeak is having to decipher what the words actually mean – gr8 is phonetic, but you have to think about what it is saying. Rather than just being able to read regular English. That can also be said about the overuse of acronyms, the speaker assuming you know what their specific acronym means. I had our HR lady talking to me about STD’s – that being Short-Term Disability, not Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Leeroy

July 31st, 2012
4:01 pm

Hillbilly D

July 31st, 2012
4:28 pm

Interesting concept, this one. Language is among the most democratic of all things. The people determine usage, over time. The people will take language wherever they want to take it, regardless of rules and dictionaries. The dictionary always runs behind the curve, adding new words every year, as they enter the language.

I remember when I was a boy, (early 60’s) we were taught that it was “tonight” and that tonite was incorrect and never to be used. For all I know, it still may be incorrect but it’s commonly used all the time, in print, on signs, etc.

Who knows what we may see in the future.

And before anybody gets bent out of shape, I think students should be taught what’s “corrrect” but 50 years from now, that may be different from what it is now.

The major focus of language is communication. As long as the two people communicating understand each other, then they’ve achieved the purpose.

mountain man

July 31st, 2012
4:44 pm

ZOMG = Zeus Oh My God?

ROTFLMAO

LOL

POTS

See, I know a few.