"Wat up wit u mom I luv u" says the most recent text from my 11-year-old son. His shorthand, of course, translates to, "What’s up with you, mom? I love you." Like many of us when we text, he isn't taking the time to type out the whole sentence. Every day he and his tween peers zip a dozen similar shorthand text messages back and forth to each other. According to a new study in the journal New Media and Society, the use of these ubiquitous texting shortcuts is negatively altering their ability to identify and use correct grammar.
Researchers gave grammar tests to sixth through eighth graders in Pennsylvania and asked them for information on their texting habits. After crunching the test and texting data they found that the more texts the 10-to-14-year-olds sent, the worse their grammar performance. The problem is the students begin to see their textual adaptations as normal and so have a tough time code switching to a more formal way of writing.
Given that texting as a form of communication isn't going to disappear, does this mean we're doomed to have a generation that doesn't know where to place commas and how to avoid dangling participles? Maybe not. Although the researchers say that the students in the study had all previously been taught the grammar rules, there's a difference between being taught something and being expected to regularly put it into practice. In this case, practice means having to apply grammar rules by regularly writing short essays and research papers.
The standardized test driven emphasis on reading and math means there's less school time devoted to teaching writing. Indeed, instead of old-school short essay response tests where the teacher would dock your grade for spelling and grammar mistakes, today's students are used to simply bubbling in answers on a scantron form. If we commit to bringing consistent, high quality writing instruction back into our schools, kids will learn how to apply formal grammar rules. Otherwise, they'll keep falling back on the form of writing—texting shorthand—they use most.