Text talk. The name itself sounds stupid. And beware: It’s making you sound stupid too.
Just one of the nicknames for the informal language that has emerged from text messaging, text talk is not only impacting how students write, but it’s hurting their ability to write formally.
A study conducted by the Pew Internet, American Life Project and the National Commission on Writing found that in a national telephone poll of 700 youths ages 12 to 17 and their parents, “64 percent of teens admit that the breezy shortcuts and symbols commonly used in text messaging have appeared in their school assignments.”
Other studies have tried to argue that texting may actually enhance writing abilities because people are focusing on how to express themselves through the written word, but I don’t buy that. Part of learning how to express yourself through the written word involves knowing how to do so appropriately.
Granted, I don’t believe it’s such a problem that the English language as we know it is on the verge of extinction. Trust me, there are too many of us grammar nazis floating around to let that happen. But the decline of writing and grammar skills is cause for serious concern, especially as technology continues to reach younger audiences.
Think about yourself in fourth grade for a minute. Personally, I can still remember learning the difference between an interrogative and declarative sentence, completing weekly spelling tests and being read a story after recess. Clearly, 10 year olds still have young, malleable minds. Common sense would tell me that if texting is the main form of writing that a child is exposed to on a consistent basis, then it is going to affect the writing skills he or she develops. And if you know anything about text talk, then rest assured that during the early education years, texting poses a huge threat to proper language development.
Why, exactly, is it so detrimental?
Besides the growing frequency in grammar and punctuation errors witnessed in classrooms, texting also conditions students to simple tenses and a limited vocabulary, according to a study by Ireland’s education commission. Not only that, but features like autocorrect make it easy for students to rely on their cellphones to know when to capitalize or where to add punctuation, resulting in the informalities continuing to pop up in professional emails and formal school reports.
And speaking of school reports, the formal voice means that the paper is written in a third-person narrative. The option to use different types of narrative voice is entirely foreign to text messaging, as it limits the author to shortened statements. Stifling creativity, these same choppy sentences later come through in school assignments and formal reports.
Unfortunately, the prevalent one-line reply has trained the brain to process information that way, perhaps its most damaging effect. Text messaging has a blatant disregard for the complete, cohesive thought, inhibiting a student’s ability to think critically and form arguments.
Writing is about being able to express an argument clearly as a complete thought with a beginning, middle and end. Yet, teachers are starting to notice a lack of depth in student’s writing. The supporting details and descriptive phrases that are key to well-written responses, essays and formal papers are missing.
And what is to be said for the future of common writing practices? Also hurting critical thinking skills, texting throws habits like brainstorming and proofreading out of the window, two crucial parts of the writing process. With barely any knowledge of how to think about writing a formal paper and even less practice writing a proper one, it can almost be guaranteed that the work is not being proofread and corrected after completion. Nowadays, the writing process mimics the texting one. A student reads a text or prompt, types his or her response and hits send or submit, respectively.
The advent of texting and other similar technologies has done what exactly technology is supposed to do: make lives easier. Channels of communication have never moved more quickly or efficiently than they have now. But the ease by which we can communicate has had a detrimental effect on the lessons we used to learn.
As technology continues to advance, it would be a real shame to see some of our most basic skills decline.
Bri Bosak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BriBosak.