Swyp with txtspk? Teachers urged to see the value in online slang

2nd October 2015 at 01:00
Education researcher says teenagers have to express themselves

OMG! UR txtspk makes ppl lol, but no one will listen 2 u or take u srsly.

Teachers should welcome internet abbreviations and textspeak in the classroom, rather than seeing its use as a reason to invalidate students’ opinions, new research claims.

Aisling O’Boyle, author of the report and lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, says teenagers should be allowed to express themselves creatively, regardless of how informal their language choice is.

Dr O’Boyle’s research into teenagers’ language use formed part of a project examining the impact of educational reform on 52 schools around the country. She considered how teachers view what teenagers have to say and found that adults tend to write-off anything expressed in textspeak or Twitter abbreviations.

“Cultural narratives around young people tend to be ‘let’s have a giggle at them – don’t they do silly things?’,” she told TES. “It’s quite easy to pick on those who use that language and make their voice seem less important – to say ‘oh, young people don’t have basic skills, so we can’t listen to them’.”

Are abbreviations NSFW?

In part, Dr O’Boyle found that teachers underrate pupils’ language abilities because they do not understand new forms of speech. “Young people’s new-media use is a new form of communication,” she said. “There are no rules, no history to go on. Young people who use it are making the rules of communication. Older people tend to say that’s awful. Well, it’s not. It’s just a new form of communication.”

She added that teachers often assume pupils’ decision-making skills are related to their ability to use standard English.

Mick Connell, consultant and vice-chair at the National Association for the Teaching of English, agreed that pupils’ language use was more sophisticated than adults often gave them credit for.

“Students are aware that they’re playing language games,” he said. “They’re aware that language is context-based and has all these possibilities. Instead of closing down things, we ought to be opening them up.”

For example, he suggested that teachers could introduce students to the word “wally”, which was widely deployed by teenagers 30 years ago but is largely out of use among pupils today.

“It’s interesting for teenagers to look at these words and realise that they have a very short shelf life,” he said. “These things are fun while they’re about, but we shouldn’t take them too seriously.”

In a paper presented at the British Educational Research Association conference this month, Dr O’Boyle highlights the fact that the new GCSE English language exam grades pupils on how they deliver a presentation and take questions, rather than their ability to speak and listen to one another.

“It’s another way of saying ‘we don’t value what you say or how you say it’,” she said.

It is a sentiment echoed by Mr Connell. “The message that teenagers get all the time is that talk is preliminary, instructional and of very low status – what’s important is reading and writing,” he said.

“Too many classrooms are not giving opportunities to young people to have extended conversations. Why should we be surprised that kids’ vocabulary is restricted?

“We give them the message that talk isn’t important in the real world. But, if we look at the real world, almost all our progress is made through discussion, collaboration and compromise.”

Besides, Mr Connell noted, while lol, yolo and omg may be relatively new acronyms, abbreviation was hardly exclusive to the internet era. “If you went back and looked at manuscripts in copperplate, I’d bet there were many more abbreviations back in that golden era,” he said.

“I bet Shakespeare abbreviated all the time – and some old git was looking on and saying ‘you shouldn’t do that’.”

Textspeak glossary

Bae: babe, sweetie

Bff: best friend forever

Brb: be right back

Fomo: fear of missing out

Gtg: got to go

Igt: I got this

LMAO: laughing my ass off

Lol: laugh out loud

Ngl: not gonna lie

NSFW: not safe for work

Nvm: never mind

On fleek: perfect, flawless

Rofl: rolling on the floor laughing

Swyp: so what’s your problem?

Thirsty: seeking attention from the opposite sex Yolo: you only live once

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