Technapex readers, I have a confession to make: like many English teachers before me, I am a grammar Nazi. Mix up “your” and “you’re” in a text message to me and I’ll likely correct you or silently judge you. Use “who” when you should have used “whom,” write “affect” when you meant “effect,” or say “off of” in any context and I’ll bemoan the misuse of the English language in modern society and rue the day I became an English major.
While I was still teaching, I mainly feared for my students. What with all their texting and tweeting, I worried about their spelling and grammar skills and made it my personal mission to expose them to proper grammar. My poor students found me to be a nightmare and dreaded getting their papers back, knowing all too well their essays would be filled with red marks and notations such as “It was she!!!!!!!!” when the offending student made the grave error of writing “It was her.”
So when I saw the results of a study from the journal New Media & Society, my fears were realized: students are losing their grip on grammar and text messaging abbrevs are to blame. The study revealed “a general negative relationship between the use of techspeak in text messages and scores on a grammar assessment.” The results of grammar tests given to middle school students revealed that the more kids used typical abbreviations in text messaging, the more their grammar skills suffered.
Other research shows that two-thirds of of middle and high school students have accidentally used instant-messaging or text-messaging style words in their school work, while a quarter admitted using emoticons in assignments. I find the decline of grammar and writing skills to be an interesting paradox because students are writing more than ever: with of the ever-increasing presence of digital technologies such as email, texting, and social media, we communicate through written text more today than at any other time in history. Therefore, it seems strange that students’ skills are suffering so much, given the amount of time they spend writing.
According to language arts teacher Jeff Sledz, instances of students writing “u” in an academic essay have nothing to do with intelligence, but an inability to distinguish different types of communication and how to use them at the appropriate times. “It’s independent of intelligence,” he said. “The problem is the inability to recognize it on your own. If I’m texting, I’ll shorten some words, but I know that isn’t appropriate for other writing. A lot of students don’t make that distinction.”
When it comes to writing, quantity does not ensure quality. Therefore, educators need to create standards for their classes if they don’t want writing and grammar skills falling by the wayside. Students are going to use abbreviations when texting outside of class, but as long as English and writing instructors give their students ample opportunity to practice formal writing (whether through short compositions or even journal writes), students will begin to apply grammar rules to their own writing and improve their grammar skills overall.
Or, educators could take a page out of Cal State East Bay instructor Alejo Enriquez’s (grammar and style) book, who wrote in his syllabus: “Despite the fact that I happen to be perfectly capable of reading any incoherent drivel you may send to my (e-mail) inbox directly from your phone keypad, ‘wut up ya I cnt make it 2 clss lol’ is insanely unprofessional. Therefore, I am imposing a higher standard of grammar, spelling, and use of the enter key upon you and kindly request that all e-mails sent to me resemble any other letter to your teacher, supervisor, grandparents or parole officer.”