Text Speak Threatens Effective Communication

The ease with which we communicate today is unlike that of any previous generation. Our belongings include home phones, cell phones, tablets, desktops, and laptops—all essential devices for staying in contact with others. With our gadgets in hand and WiFi nearby, we can send a message to almost anyone at any time and have them receive it instantaneously. We are the envy of our ancestors who relied on the telegraph and, like them, we keep our messages brief. We abbreviate whenever possible, creating text speak. Sentences are chopped down to the minimal number of words; words lacking proper spelling, and entire phrases that are reduced to mere letters. Our condensed text speak rarely has room for punctuation, yet times call for messages to consist of nothing but a question mark or an exclamation point. Even the expression of our emotions has been watered down to emojis that have replaced our desire to choose precise diction. Although text speak can be a fabulous way to communicate, it may be weakening our language skills in the long run.

When sending telegrams, people relied on paid operators to transmit their messages since it was not practical to have a telegraph of one's own. Now, our devices for communicating have operators that may have literally just mastered the alphabet. Teachers report seeing students using text speak on their assignments more than ever before. Commonly, students write in abbreviations (i.e. "U" for "you," or "C" for "see"). Teachers can spend days on punctuation lessons only to find the next writing assignments completely neglecting the skills students had seemed to master during practice. When no attempt is made to respond to an essay test question, students, drawing a blank, fill in the space with three letters: IDK. Too much effort, some students believe, goes into spelling out "I don't know." Students, including high school seniors, even ignore the most basic capitalization rules. Unfortunately, correcting these errors is going to take more than a red ink pen.

Part of the trouble is that students are not discerning between informal and formal writing. Students are constantly interacting with their followers and friends on social media. They transmit written correspondence frequently, but most of the time, they have no reason to abide by the laws of grammar and proper English language use. Like many of the adults whith whom they are interacting, students use text speak to quickly make their point and move on to the next message or post. What they produce and what is being modeled for them is chock full of language misuse, but it works for informal writing. It's friendly, playful, and catchy—what one would expect when the audience is a friend or someone of no consequence.

Students must be trained to recognize when to use formal writing; writing that follows the rules their teachers strive to teach. Writing can be an intimidating process for students, and in times of stress, kids may gravitate towards what they know. Since much of their experience is with informal writing these days, it's no wonder that text speak appears in responses to test questions, college admissions essays, job applications, and emails to bosses, teachers and other professionals. Teaching students to first recognize the kind of writing required is key to eliminating text speak in certain situations. Students need to know that writing by the rules matters.

Clarity cannot be misconstrued when the stakes are high on exams, just like language skills need to demonstrate mastery if an essay is to help prove an applicant will be competent in a university. The development of prewriting habits can help students be mindful of the impact their writing will have on a reader. They need to write with the mindset that they must be taken seriously and clearly. Keeping aware of their audience and purpose is half of the battle; the other half can be won in proofing. Since writing in text speak comes so naturally, sometimes students do not even realize they are using text speak as they are writing. Proofreading one's own work after the draft is complete can help many catch instances of text speak in their work. This habit helps twofold because it will increase the chances of writers correcting other errors they mistakenly wrote along the way.

While much of what is written for a class is formal writing, text speak may have its place in school, too. One kind of informal writing is note taking. Writing proficient notes with text speak makes sense since it is quick to do and the audience rarely extends beyond the writer himself or herself. Creative writing projects allow for text speak, too; however, students need to prove they can write by the rules before they can begin to break them for stylistic purposes.