Guest Opinion: Why good English is good 4 U | May 9, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - May 9, 2014

Guest Opinion: Why good English is good 4 U

by Samuel Xiao

"Twz d bst of x, twz d wst of x." Translation: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

As a chronic texter, I have become accustomed to reading these messages. Now that we have touch-screen phones, computers and tablets our communication has become more efficient. Through the touch of a button, we are able to send messages across the country. More than eight trillion text messages were sent in 2011, and 95 percent of 18-29-year-olds text.

For me, typing in abbreviation is second nature, and there is a distinct difference between academic writing and texting. Unfortunately, some parents label this non-standard English use as the downfall of Standard Written English and the cause of illiteracy among youths. According to John McWhorter, an authority in linguistics, the proper response to these accusations is LOL.

There have been conflicting studies about the effect of texting language or "textspeak" on literacy, yet some parents and educators wholeheartedly believe that textspeak is the root of all problems. After surveying 542 middle school students, researchers at Penn State concluded a negative correlation between the frequency of sending/receiving textspeak messages and grammar scores. Their explanation is that kids are imitating and habituating textspeak, which muddles their academic language skills. Teens might develop an inability to switch back to proper grammar, influencing poor grammar choices that make it through formal writing. However, in the study there seemed to be no effect on the tweens' ability to use correct capitalization and punctuation on the tests.

What people often forget is that switching on and off between textspeak and formal writing is easy and ordinary. Just like you do not talk slang to parents, there is clearly a different mindset when writing essays. Individuals are able to distinctly differentiate the right setting for textspeak and formal writing. I have never struggled with changing gears from texting a short response to a friend to writing my AP English persuasive essay, and neither have my classmates. In fact, understanding the intricate differences between the languages has improved my grammar. I became more aware of what styles to avoid and strayed away from abbreviating words.

Students deviate from Standard English because of technological limitations such as the keyboard. Youths are inclined to write shorthand messages such as "laugh out loud" into "LOL" due to time efficiency and ease. Typing entire phrases out strains fingers and is impractical. Further, text messages are meant as a convenient way to communicate. Often people are on the go and read texts on the side. No recipient wants to read a block of text on the tiny screens of their mobile devices.

Texting language is not only beneficial for practicality, but also for the positive development of language. Standard English is slimmed down to its most basic and simplistic roots, clearing the meaning of sentences and building a foundation of English for children. Since messages are intended to be concise, there is no room for verbosity, which helps strengthen the skills children need in reading and writing.

In addition, people who are newly learning English especially benefit from text speak. Texting helps students read. There is more awareness when reading textspeak due to the creative usage of words. Students see the building blocks when they abbreviate a word that encourages understanding on how the word is built. The playful and creative nature of texting eases the English learning process.

Communities have seen the benefits of textspeak and followed trends on modernizing education to suit its needs. Palo Alto Unified School District recently implemented an "iPad Pilot Project" at Gunn High School, my alma mater, enabling students access to iPads at school. The project's broad goals are "(1) differentiation, (2) study skills, (3) literacy." My friends and I often used these iPads to communicate over Facebook messenger, using texting lingo. The integration of real word communication at school along with the standard curriculum prepares students socially and professionally. As textspeak becomes popular globally, it will be worthwhile for more schools to infuse education with these experiences.

Adults should halt their fears. Kids will use textspeak as a language separate from the language in actual writing. Textspeak, far from being a detrimental influence, is going to greatly grow as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives. Better start txting :)

Samuel Xiao is a student at Columbia University who graduated from Gunn High School last year.


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