Have you seen those new books at Barnes & Noble? The ones written for teens using just text screens and text language. There’s love and drama and mystery—all written in a way that is completely, well, misspelled! If you have texting kids, I’ll bet you’ve seen the way they completely rewrite the English language in an effort to type faster, be funny, and, quite honestly, hide conversations from parents. The question is…is it really NBD? (That’s ‘no big deal’ for those of you who need a translation.)
On one hand, I just about sit and cry when I think of all those spelling tests we studied for. One look at a text conversation and its clear, those extra vowels were just a sad waste of time. As a teacher, I have seen the impact. My college students seem to place less value on good spelling and grammar—especially on more informal writing like journals, personal response papers, and e-mails. On the other hand, these students who have been using text language for at least 4 or 5 years, are able to write just fine when they put their mind to it. It is possible that text language, when used in the correct context, may not only not hurt kids but it may actually help them.
According to a recent study done by two sociolinguists from University of Toronto, it is possible that “developing and practicing with a whole new model of communication allows kids to flex linguistic muscles which otherwise would have remained dormant” (http://www.l2si.speculist.com/2006/08/instant_messaging_builds_langu.html) In other words, as kids learn to make up their own abbreviations, using and manipulating new words and phrases, they are actually becoming skilled at learning, well a whole new language. As a result, text language may actually be helping our kids become more skilled at language use in general.
Now before you check to see if the college you are sending your child to accepts TextSpeak as a second language, its not all gr8t news. It seems to me a real challenge is to teach children how to confine Textspeak to their text messaging programs. Adults need to be aware of times when the language is used in contexts where it is not appropriate (like e-mails to adults, resumes, and term papers in English). By highlighting how important good spelling and grammar are in certain contexts, we can help them become better communicators in all contexts.
As parents, we also need to be aware of Textspeak that is designed to hide potentially dangerous conversations from a wary parent’s eye. (I have included a list of acronyms that might be used to hide face to face meetings or secret relationships.) While we probably won’t become fluent with this uniquely teenage language, we at least can’t be naïve about how our children use it.
So next time you throw up your hands in despair as you read your child’s text messages, take pause and think about how much smarter your child will be!
AAR8T, IMspk iznt all bd. Well, GTG, CUL8R!
A/S/L or ASL – age/sex/location (used to ask a chatter their personal information)
BBS – be back soon
F2F – face to face
CD9, Code 9 – someone in the room
POS, MOS, P911 – parent over shoulder, mom over shoulder, parent in room
LOL – laughing out loud
IRL – in real life
B/F, G/F – boyfriend, girlfriend