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What’s the Problem with Texting?

WEB Girl Texting Zoe CC

Zoe CC

Eugene Gan - published on 09/18/14

Studies show that texting does not harm children's grammar and spelling, so why are we so concerned?

OMG! A series of studies has concluded that texting isn’t 2 blame for poor spelling or grammar skills. Is this gr8 news for teens and teachers alike, or does it still fly in the face of conventional wisdom? After all, wouldn’t extended and repeated use of abbreviations, emoticons, truncated grammar, and phonological spelling vicissitudes during texting (sometimes referred to as the injudicious use of “textese” or “textisms” or even “txtspk”) predict poor spelling and grammar use in regular writing and speech as well? For that matter, how many opportunities do I really get to use fun multisyllabic words like “vicissitudes” in 140 character tweets? And how might I abbreviate “vicissitudes” or its cooler tongue-twisting sibling “vicissitudinousness” so someone else still recognizes the word?

The mention of texting seems to conjure images of young teens hunched over their smart phones, oblivious to the rest of the physical world and the happenings around them. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reports that 78 percent of teens now have a cell phone and 74 percent of teens ages 12-17 say they access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Texting is an important part of that mobile experience, and the numbers of text messages sent continues to increase annually. It’s an universal phenomenon, with concomitant concerns amongst educators worldwide for how texting slang impacts literacy development.

The findings of a joint study by Coventry University in the UK and the University of Tasmania in Australia were recently published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. They indicated that textisms do NOT appear to negatively impact children’s literacy, and may additionally benefit their learning to spell as well. The study included 83 primary (elementary) school students, 78 secondary (middle and high) school students, and 49 college undergraduates. These students were asked to copy down the text messages they had sent within a recent two-day period, exactly as they had written them. These texts were then analyzed for textisms and other “grammatical violations” including the use of emoticons, incorrect use of standard punctuation, missing words and letters, and word abbreviations and reductions. The study concluded that for this group, there is a slight correlation between the use of textisms and increases in students’ test scores.

This is just the latest in a string of studies affirming the same. For example, a 2011 study looking at 10- to 12-year-old children reported significant and positive relationships between textism use and general spelling ability, providing “further evidence that children’s use of textisms is associated not with declining standards of literacy, but with better spelling skills.” Another 2008 study conducted with British children reported that the children who used more textisms tended to have better performance on a measure of verbal reasoning ability and in their reading and writing.

Speculations abound as to why all these findings seem to contradict earlier media-reported fears about how texting is wreaking havoc with children’s literacy skills. It could be a matter of increased exposure to the written word which is a positive predictor for reading success, or it’s possible that experimenting with language increases overall fluency and improves reading and writing skills simply because the sheer fun of texting friends and playing around with words increases the overall enjoyment of reading and writing while at the same time, provides practice with linking sounds and letters. It’s also important to acknowledge that using textisms doesn’t necessarily mean that young people don’t know proper grammar. It could be a simple matter of saving time: the inefficiency of typing long, formal sentences on tiny mobile screen keyboards, for example. Textisms could well be a viewed as an additional casual style that can be added to one’s writing repertoire.

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