Dnt ban txting, make it work 4 u

31st October 2008 at 00:00
Text-messaging is as much of a concern to teachers and pupils in New Zealand as in Scotland. Henry Hepburn reports

Adults are not alone in worrying about the impact of text-messaging on young people's grasp of English - children do too.

Research has found that primary pupils in New Zealand fear abbreviated and non-standard language is starting to creep into the English they use in other settings.

"Several of the older children expressed concern that they now habitually used textisms for words such as 'wen' in their everyday writing; the pattern established by the pushing of buttons had generalised to pen use," concluded a report by Canterbury University's Sue Bridges.

The children were aware that text language was only suitable in certain settings, yet it was increasingly cropping up in other types of writing. High-volume texters in particular were struggling to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate usages.

The report, presented in Edinburgh at the recent annual conference of the British Educational Research Association, also found that 60 per cent of children interviewed did not view texting as an important skill. The figure was even higher among the older children.

The research involved tasks set for 210 children at four primary schools in Christchurch and Nelson, all aged eight or over and a minority of whom were old enough to be in secondary school in Scotland.

When they were asked to text a 17-word statement, 96 non-standard versions of those words were used; there were 13 versions of "yes" alone. "Such a proliferation of versions of each standard word has the potential to lead to risks of miscommunication, unless the transmitter and receiver of the message share a clear understanding of the term," the report stated.

Texting often became a "guessing game", because some messages were difficult to decipher without the advantages of face-to-face communication such as body language and intonation.

The report stressed, however, that both standard and text-messaging language "deserved to flourish". Standard written skills should be protected, but teachers needed to embrace the opportunities presented by texting.

Children enjoyed working out text-isms in the same way that they had fun with puzzles or word games. Many found it more interesting and easier than standard written tasks, and the novelty factor grabbed their attention.

Text language also offered a way for special needs children to record their ideas quickly. A parent of a boy with dysgraphia said that standard English was a "huge mystery", but that text language made more sense to him and was easier to remember.

It was also important not to overstate the impact of texting on other forms of writing: many children could "code-switch" easily and their deliberate use of misspelling suggested an emerging dialect which could coexist with standard English.

The report argued that the increasingly popular predictive texting setting could determine the impact of text language on standard English: if children preferred to let their phones learn standard words rather than text language, it would be minimal.

The research also involved interviews with 27 children and online questionnaires completed by 15 parents and five teachers.

It is hoped that these findings can be explored in more detail, with the possibility of including a comparative study of UK schools.

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