OMG but TXTs help me spel L8R
For many teachers and parents, those text abbreviations may spell the end of literacy as we know it, but a growing body of research indicates that text messages can actually help students' ability to spell.
It may seem counterintuitive to those who wonder how hours spent slinging digital slang can't help but translate into "lol"-peppered formal correspondence. But language experts say that no matter how dumbed down the techno shorthand looks, the wordplay has a positive impact on students' spelling smarts.
"Sometimes, there's an assumption that kids are more stupid than they actually are, to be quite blunt, and it's just not the case," said Clare Wood, a senior lecturer in the psychology department at Coventry University in the U.K. "Their use of the texting abbreviations everyone gets so worried about, they're not hurting your kids' literacy development. They actually seem to be helping it."
In a study to be published next month in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Wood and her colleagues recruited 114 students aged 9-10 who had never owned a cell phone.
They gave half of the students cell phones to use on the weekends and holidays and, during 10 weeks, the researchers tested students in both groups on reading, spelling and phonological skills.
The researchers found no difference between how students in the two groups performed.
"There was absolutely no sign that it was problematic," said Wood.
She said it's likely that this study was too short for the benefits of texting to be apparent, but added that another longer-term study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology showed that texting significantly boosted the growth of literacy skills.
The study included 119 students aged 8-12 who use cell phones, and looked at the relationship between their texting habits and performance on reading, spelling and phonological skills tests.
The researchers tested students at the beginning of the academic year, analyzed a sample of their text messages and then tested students again at the end of the academic year.
Wood said the results of that study found that the use of text abbreviations was driving spelling development. They even reversed the analysis to see if it was the good spellers who tended to use text abbreviations, but found that relationship was unidirectional, she said.
"The use of text abbreviations was contributing to spelling ability, not the other way around," she said. "That's the one that's really exciting."
And Woods' study is hardly the first to arrive at such positive results.
Three years ago, Connie Varnhagen, a professor of psychology at the University of Alberta in Canada, led a study that looked at the instant messages of 40 students between 12 and 17.
They asked students to save a weeks' worth of "chatspeak"-loaded instant messages and then gave the adolescents spelling tests.
They found that students who were good spellers in the world of academics were good spellers in the world of instant messaging and vice versa. In short, the constant texting wasn't hurting language development in any way the researchers examined.
"It's exposure to language. It's playing with language," said Varnhagen. "It doesn't hurt them."