Instant Messaging Still Not Ruining Kids' Grammar

from the again? dept

A few years ago, teachers and parents started worrying that “txt speak” from IM and SMS text messages was contributing to the downfall of the language, as kids would mix in txting shortcuts into school papers and such. However, study after study has shown this to be false. In 2003, a study showed all this use of text messaging helped make kids feel more comfortable with writing. In 2004, a study found that most kids were smart enough to understand the differences in writing formally and writing text messages to friends. In 2005, research showed that kids today are actually better writers than in the past (“using far more complex sentence structures, a wider vocabulary and a more accurate use of capital letters, punctuation and spelling”), even if they allowed the occasional txting shortcut into their papers. So, we’re past the halfway mark in 2006 — it’s about time someone came out with this year’s report saying the exact same thing. Thanks to Slashdot, we find out that it’s the University of Toronto, whose researchers apparently decided the past studies weren’t enough and did their own, showing no ill effects on writing from all that text messaging. So, now we have four years worth of studies, all saying the same thing. Can we finally put to bed the idea that text messaging is bad for kids’ writing skills?

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Comments on “Instant Messaging Still Not Ruining Kids' Grammar”

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The Teenager says:


It is not hurting their ability to spell, punctuate, capitalize ect., but rather, it is lowering expectations for writing. Then txt-ing there is no chastisement, to consequences for using incorrect grammar, so they get used to having not expectations. Most of my friends, and yes, i am a teenager, can’t puntuate for their lives and usually don’t spell things correctly or capitalize correctly even when they are doing papers, ect. because: A. They don’t know how because they never have; and B. They feel no need to, because the lack of any desire for writing correctly has escaped them for thier entire lives. I don’t ever remember being taught any grammar in elementary school, and you don’t learn to spell, but rather are tested on wether or not you are a born “speller.”

So it’s true that it’s not text messagings fault for starting it, but text messaging kind of keeps in going. It keeps kids writing all year with not expectations except the expectations that anyone should understand what your writing, or they’re not worth writing to.

The Twenty-Something says:


Hey, don’t make excuses. You can’t spell, punctuate, or capitalize because YOU don’t care to. You may not think there are expectations of you, but there are. I used to be a horrible speller and punctuator (I could always capitalize, how do you screw that up?) until Instant Messaging hit when I was in my teens. Then I started reading books and newspapers which really helped with punctuation. So put down your phone, get onto some of your favorite websites, and actually pay attention to what’s written.

By the way, that was a pretty well written entry. I guess you feel that Techdirt has some high expectations for you.

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: no wai

Yeah, it was ruined already. Take a look at the average post on /. or digg and it’s embarrassing that these folks are past the fourth grades (and I’m not talking ESL either).

I IM with my 10-year-old on occasion and he is a decent typer and communicates quite well because of it. His spelling and grammar could use some improvement, but that has nothing to do with IM. We used to chat on the Vax back in the mid 80’s and developed what we called “Hakspeek”, which was just the same kind of stuff everyone does now. 20 years later, I am a proficient enough typist to avoid that stuff.

The real problem is that people don’t _read_ anymore, which is why you will see so many words spelled fo-net-tik-lee. It’s obvious the person hasn’t seen the word in writing. I watch plenty of TV and spend time on the Web, and don’t consider myself a huge reader (2-3 books a month, some serious, some fluff), but apparently I’m wrong given that recent piece about how many folks never crack a book after high school or college.

That’s the real problem. People think reading or even TechDirt is the equivalent of reading a good book. Far from it… this stuff is brain candy, even if some useful discussions are spurred from it. I don’t think the Internet has caused this problem although it is probably contributing to it. Given how many grammar and spelling problems you see in magazines and newspapers, and my favorite example, local news broadcasts, there seems to be a diminishing standard of correctness… and when you get on the Web, the idea of “editor” even among “reputable” newspaper and magazine sites, etc, seems to be virtually non-existent.

IM isn’t any worse than the slang any kid uses in any period of history (“Dude, Aristarchus is such a bonehead.”) As long as he knows what’s slang and what’s proper, there’s no problem.

MusicMan1 says:


The initial ‘this is ruining our children’s lives’ was hype anyway. Kids know much more about computers by simply sitting down infront of the thing for a few hours, than their parents that pay for classes for a semester. I never truely saw the connection anyway, I know i dont spell well, there may be several mistakes in this comment. But it has nothing to do with instant messaging.

If children cant understand the difference between ‘see you later’ and ‘c y4 l8r’ they really arn’t at a level of comprehention and literacy to be judged as a deciding body to compare instant messaging/texting to the general student population.

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We use IM extensively here at work, and the slang is pretty heavily used (YT? BRB, etc). There’s nothing wrong with that, but since I can type well enough, I don’t do that as I think it is more professional to communicate in complete sentences even in a medium as ephemeral as IM… and absolutely when it comes to e-mail. Most people communicate just fine around here (we’re all adults and professionals), but I think it’s worthwhile to maintain a higher standard.

Ultimately, however, you can’t do that unless you are properly educated, and that requires much work above and beyond regular schooling. Many schools do a lousy job of teaching the basics… it’s more important to be able to put a condom on a banana than to be able to write a coherent paragraph, but even the good schools can’t replace an environment where reading is encouraged and practiced. My wife and I read all the time, but it’s still a lot of work to try to get our kids to read… TV and electronics are a huge distraction, but once we pull the power plug and after a couple minutes of griping, the kids will gladly switch over to other activities, including pulling out a book, or (Heaven Forfend!) going outside and getting some exercise.

I have nothing against TV and video games and other trappings of our time (I grew up in front of the tube and turned out OK), as long as they are moderated with more productive activities. The best thing parents can do is set a good example.

Clibby says:

But what about...

Its not the text messaging that is ruining our grammer and spelling; its the fact that we all use computers to write everything and now rely on spell and grammer checkers. I know this not because of others, but because I’ve realized this myself. I had to turn off the spell and grammer checkers on my computer to help with the problem and use it as a last resort, not because my papers written at home were bad, but my in-class writing was always flawed.

Anonymous Coward says:

My contacts must be abberations

If kids aren’t getting dumber, and I don’t care if it’s because of internet pagers or not, then why do I have contacts on my list who can’t write a sentence to save their own lives? I mean it: if they fell down a well, and they needed to convey something intelligently to rescue personnel in order to not die, I’d start picking out a suit; I know how it’d end.

Ali says:

Re: My contacts must be abberations

Those people have always been around. Now some of them are your contacts.
This media has just given people who aren’t strong in – or don’t care about – grammar, punctuation, etc a place to be lazy and get away with it. In the past, those people learned enough English to fill out the forms and get by – and I know plenty of them who lead normal over-35-y-o lives avoiding as many literary activities as possible. 🙂

Joshua says:

It's not txt messaging...

When I was in elementary school (grades k-5) we were taught the alphabet, phonics, how to spell common words by rote, basic grammar (subjects, predicates, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and pronouns), how to write a five paragraph report, and cursive writing (which I have never used outside of fourth and fifth grade for anything other than my signature). Middle school and high school English focused on expanding my knowledge of the names of the different types of structures in a sentence, making me read boring books (seriously… Utopia?), and teaching me how to write better five paragraph reports.

I don’t ever remember a single lesson on how to structure a sentence (“don’t end a sentence on a predicate” doesn’t count). Nor do I remember a course on sentence flow and readability. I had to learn that by reading books.And the only reason I read regularly is because my parents are avid readers. The books they assigned at school sure didn’t inspire me to go out and discover more to read.

The only reason I can spell with the proficiency I can now is that I took an intrest in word origins (which is how I am told spelling bee competitors do it). Rote learning just can’t cover it all.

The point I am getting at is that instead of complaining that kids don’t use propper grammar, maybe we should be teaching them why grammar is important and more importantly *how to use it*.

Justin Johnson says:

No way...

“A few years ago, teachers and parents started worrying that “txt speak” from IM and SMS text messages was contributing to the downfall of the language, as kids would mix in txting shortcuts into school papers and such. However, study after study has shown this to be false.”

Hogwash. Complete hogwash.

I’ve proofread papers that have those shortcuts in them. “Study after study” is flawed. When you’re handing something in to your teacher, substiuting u for you and cuz for because is… bloody ridiculous and subconscious as every kid says they didn’t know that they did it.

Beckie M says:

forum grammar nazi's

there are so many chat’s and forums where people will point out every little your and you’re mix up. You feel stupid being the one constantly corrected and you are darn sure not to make that same mistake again.

I have people proof read fic’s Iwrite and I’ve learned more from them reminding me the proper use of “then and than” then my english teacher ever did. I took advanced english classes and I have to agree w/ the guy who said schools didn’t teach me HOW to structure a sentance so it was readable, I had to write in order to learn that. IMing all the time is a great way to learn how to write what you mean, there’s no inflections in ones voice, you don’t get to say “you know what i’m saying right?” all the time because NO, we DON’T know what you’re saying. I’ve learned to more accurately learn to express my meaning tactfully throught txt and IM then by any english lesson

Code_ex says:

Re: forum grammar nazi's

“I have people proof read fic’s Iwrite and I’ve learned more from them reminding me the proper use of “then and than” then my english teacher ever did.”

“fic’s” ??

“Iwrite” ??

“then my english teacher” ?? (then what???)

Looks like you really did learn somethng didn’t you? Maybe people around here should check their own spelling and grammar when commenting.

Just Me :D says:

Re: Re: forum grammar nazi's

Did you know it’s very bad grammar to use two question marks? Haha 🙂 This forum is kinda funny. There are grammar corrections replies everywhere! (Yes, I know kinda is not a real word…) You can correct this grammar all you want! To tell you the truth, I won’t care in the slightest!

Anonymous Coward says:

The most obvious thing that the OP and the studies aren’t looking at is the heavy use of “spellcheck” and “grammarcheck” by kids these days. I would love – LOVE – to read their papers without the aid of these crutches. I dont buy for one second that kids arent idiots these days, because I get to read their writing all the time. Just go read letters that Civil War soldiers wrote home to their families, and compare it to what kids write today. You’ll shake your head with consternation.

Annoyed says:

Re: Re:

I am a high school senior. I have taken three college English classes this year. I also text a lot. I have never put any texting lingo in my papers. I know how to write. Stop lumping all “kids” into one group. There are many exceptions to your rule. Even if most of us rely on spell check, you will really make the ones that don’t angry. I doubt you would get anyone on your side that way except the people that are already on your side (which would make your comment pointless).

A chicken passeth by says:

They are forgetting something.

Perhaps the linguists don’t realize that a long time ago, SMS’s (the first IM) were charged BY MESSAGE LENGTH.

txtmsg wz inv. 2 keep $s dn. (and make messaging on the phone less of a chore before the T9 dictionary was invented… I still haven’t mastered one finger SMS no jutsu.)

Naturally, the entire phenomenon was ported wholesale to PC IMing, where it is now used since it’s much faster to type like that.

Pompous professors simply have no imagination whatsoever…

shableep says:

What's everyone flipping out about?

My grammar wouldn’t be what it is today if I had never communicated on the internet.

If anything, the internet was always a place for me to practice newly learned grammar concepts while growing up. If you have a kid that is prone to bad grammar, he’s going to have bad grammar regardless of what’s of how it’s displayed.

One kid might not know how to structure a sentence properly and make up most of the grammar. That same kid with messaging experience would refer to using his texting expertise as a place holder of his lacking grammar knowledge.

We’re all way too quick to point the finger.

David (user link) says:

Grew up with AIM

I basically grew up with IM software starting at about 10th grade when ICQ first came out, and all my friends write beautiful english.

I think ICQ really improved my writing, as it wasn’t instantaneous.. more of a text messaging kind of thing. AIM at first seemed a bit too quick for me.

But as time went by, my friends and I learned to adapt, and I think we can differentiate between AIM and what we write at the office, schools, and email.

The Twenty-Something says:

What treachery is this?

What language do ye speakith with. Mine ears are poisoned with the speech of modern day! If only I could escape this purgatory…

It’s the EVOLUTION of language. If today’s children are being more efficient with their writing and EVERYONE understands what they are saying, then it’s still functioning (better than before) as effective communication. Everyone needs to let go of these rigid notions of what everything is supposed to be and accept what it’s becoming. Those who try to hold back progression will only be left behind. You can quote me on that.

Slayer says:

It is not the writing.

It is not the writing that gets affected its the typing. Typing is largely based on memorization. Abandoning the learned method to abbreviate just about damn near everything give way to the possibility that those abbreviations will make it into “proper” text based documents. Now its true, with the beauty of the ever evolving word processing programs, that these things are caught but at what expense to time and efficiency. Not to mention when you move into the corporate (or even not so corporate) world and a typo or “txt speak” dropped in an e-mail could define you possibilty for promotion within a company. No it isn’t the writing, it is the typing.

chris (profile) says:

coding will ruin your writing skills

i refuse to use capitals when i write because of all the time i have wasted thanks to case sensitivity.

spelling and capitalization are not that important if you use a decent word processor to write important documents.

as any coder will tell you, it’s not important to spell correctly, just consistently.

Code_ex says:

Re: coding will ruin your writing skills

I am a coder, I have been for over 12 years, and I’m here to tell you that you are absolutely FULL of S**T. Any INTELLIGENT coder will tell you it is important to spell correcly AND consistently.

I would LOATH to see your work, especially since you obviously prefer to let software do it for you, you aren’t a coder, you are a pathetic script kiddy!!!!

Feynman says:


To ConceptJunkie

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking”

-Albert Einstein

This doesn’t excuse schools from inadequate teaching. Quite the contrary, schools should be required to teach children grammar in several different languages with different origins and different grammatical structures (i.e. english, spanish, japanese). However, I’m concerned about you. Why aren’t you following your creative pursuits? I think a better impression would be set on your children if you were in the pursuit of invention or formulation of theories than sitting on your ass reading about other peoples ideas without any of your own…

Kamran says:


How would coding ruin writing skills? I always code using VS.NET and I’d say the opposite. The constant nagging with formatting statements and functions… especially when you’re writing a long program, making sure your functions and routines are all the same convention.

Anyway, when I was in elementary school, we had typing classes, english, and everything. I don’t remember a thing from the English classes… I’ve always read, I still read, and years in high school was spent doing Latin because I wanted to learn grammar and sentence structure… I learned more in my Latin class than English ever taught me.

I’m a naturally good at spelling, too.

This whole business of TXTing killing children has some merit, I think, in some cases… in IM, I don’t spend a lot of time writing punctuated and capitalized sentences but otherwise stay true to the conventions. I will type properly the first time I meet someone, because I think the first impression counts more. To me, if you type properly when you first meet me, I’ll know you can do it and if you stop after that, I won’t care.

King Bitch says:

At our school it is compulsory to have a laptop in year 9, i asked my class of 25 students if they considered themselves good writers of acceptional spelling and grammar. 60% admitted no. Without a doubt this is because students are becoming too dependent of spell check on our word documents and are rarely challenged on our writing abilities.

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