How texting helps pupils with their textbooks
Can modern messaging enhance your children's literacy skills?
Photo: Mode Images Limited / Alamy
This cd b v expensive chat, observed my son. He is 19 and in London, I in Tanzania. A scheduled conversation on Skype had failed, but I was determined to extract some news. A dozen brief – and similarly abbreviated – messages followed. An expensive chat indeed. But the alternative – that he write a letter to update his parents as to his whereabouts and wellbeing – seemed out of the question. It would take too long, he’d argue and, he’d point out, there are other, swifter, options.
When he was a malleable eight-year-old, I could coerce him into writing conventional thank you letters (pen, paper, envelope, stamp) post Christmas. By the time he was a teenager, I found myself struggling for a reason why a text – thnx 4 ur pressie gran it is gr8 – mightn’t be as warmly received as a letter in the mail. It was, after all, still a message of gratitude.
Besides, as Guy Merchant, professor of literacy in education at Sheffield Hallam University and a member of the UK Literary Association (UKLA), points out: “Language and literacy change over time. Social, economic and technological conditions influence these changes in significant ways.”
My son is a product of his time. We don’t just communicate in myriad ways today – emails and instant messaging for example – the technology we employ, whether it is mobile phones or laptops, is constantly evolving.
“These different channels of communication have led to the emergence of new communicative styles including text abbreviations and acronyms,” says Prof Merchant. According to him, writing is “enjoying a moment of creativity”, with young people at its heart.His conclusion is that “there is no evidence that literacy is in decline, reading and writing, in whatever form, is advantageous”.
That reminds me of what a teacher said to a mother who was anxious that her child read only comics. “Even the back of the cereal packet over breakfast offers an opportunity to explore words,” she said.
However, Helen Cooper, a professor of English at Cambridge University, voices the worry that textspeak is not enough. “As someone with a deep concern for English literature, and the full possibilities of the use of the language, I’m eager for children and young people to read real books as extensively as possible, so that they can absorb all the things that textspeak doesn’t cover: a large vocabulary, the shape that well-made sentences can take, how to develop ideas through language, even punctuation. I want them to experience all the pleasure that reading gives, and the satisfaction that writing well brings.”
Clare Havers, who teaches GCSE English, shares Prof Cooper’s sentiment about books. “My feeling is that children are daunted by large bodies of text, which is why reading books is so important; it is up to parents and schools to make sure they learn sustained reading skills alongside the browsing skills demanded by the internet.
“There are important things to be gained from 'slow’ meditative reading that can’t be gained from skimming text on the iPhone or iPad.”
But she was interested in the results of recent fourth-form coursework on the future of reading in the 21st century. “We considered books versus electronic forms of text – Kindle, iPad. Some students found traditional forms of reading comforting, but said they didn’t have the time or inclination; others said they devoted time to reading as a leisure activity, whether in the traditional form of books or electronically; most felt that reading on Google, Facebook, or text messages was still reading, and was the shape of reading for the future.”
Perhaps the bite-size texts of today engage children who might have resisted words had they only had access to them conventionally? Many children are overwhelmed by volumes of text, drawing them in with manageable chunks makes reading – and the subsequent manipulation of words as writing – less intimidating.
Indeed, one study which dispelled my anxiety that too much text talk might compromise a child’s literacy was that conducted by Coventry University psychologists Drs Clare Wood and Beverley Plester, who say that though my concerns are understandable, the reality is very different.
“There is no evidence the use of textspeak is harming literacy development in children: in fact the associations are positive, rather than negative,” says Dr Wood. “There is a reason: many popular abbreviations used by children are highly phonetic in nature (often spelling as they speak), this shows a high degree of sensitivity to letter-sound correspondences in language. It just comes in a more unconventional form, and that unconventional format is what worries people,” she said.
Dr Plester says their research shows “pre-teens who use the most 'textisms’ do best in standard literacy measures of spelling and reading.” Another study, by the National Literacy Trust, concludes that children who blog, text or use social networking websites are more confident about their writing skills.
What about the danger that textspeak may work its way into formal writing requirements, such as school essays? Ms Havers says: “Most children are careful about keeping to a more formal written register for class work: 'u’ and '2’ slip in most frequently, but then so does incorrect grammar, like 'must of’ and 'could of’.”
My 17-year-old daughter, who has just written her Higher Level IB English, but who uses abbreviations and acronyms in emails her grandmother cannot fathom, said: “The constant debate in the media about whether or not teens will soon be illiterate with giant thumbs due to their excessive use of mobile phones is demeaning. Because I am a teen, it does not mean I am unable to switch between textspeak and formal essay writing; it’s as easy as switching between chatting to your friends and speaking to an elderly aunt.”
Speech and language therapist Veenal Raval investigated this subject in a dissertation for City University, London, and concluded that children are able to use appropriate grammar and literacy skills according to their environment. He says: “They are able to 'code-switch’ the same way that I would use a reasonable amount of slang when speaking to my friends and adopt a more formal means when talking to colleagues.”
He adds: “It’s about balancing the 'digi’ and 'traditional’, but there is clearly no cause for alarm: rather than compromising young people’s literacy skills and conventional writing, new media – because it’s so prevalent, so much a part of their everyday lives, so accessible and so instantly gratifying – offers a surprising opportunity to enhance it.”
If u wnt 2 kno wot txt msgz frm ur kds or grandkds rly mean, here are some pointers. Forget punctuation. Teens don’t waste time adding commas, apostrophes or full stops. The only exception is the question mark, a replacement for the word why.
Substitute numbers for letters and words (so 2 is “too,” 4 is “for”, l8r is “later”, gr8 is “great” and g2g is “got to go”) and eradicate vowels (pls is “please,” ur “your”, cd “could” and txts “texts”). Use acronyms (so idk is “I don’t know”, jk “just kidding”, bff “best friend forever”, bffl “best friend for life”, wud “what (are) you doing”, ttyl “talk to you later”, lol is “laugh out loud”, omg “oh, my God’; rofl is “rolling on the floor laughing” to indicate high amusement and tmi is “too much information”, as when your bff tells you she g2g to the loo).
And substitute single letters for whole words, so r is “are” u means “you”, c “see”, o is “oh” and k “OK”. “R u gng to c the movie?” might elicit a response “k” with a friendly “c u l8r”.
Prof Plester suggests reading texts aloud because “most of the txtsms used are phonetic in nature, especially the dreaded b4 l8r 2nite. She adds: “I’ll bet your mother learned to spell phonetically.”
If you’re still struggling, check out Textionary: The Texting Dictionary or Shawn Marie Eddington’s Read Between the Lines: A Humorous Guide to Texting with Simplicity and Style (both available from Amazon), which includes how teens text and texting benefits for us all.
Source: The Telegraph - Telegraph.co.uk