Texting Improving Literacy?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by uberculture

Reading through some random tweets leading to a blog post, I found a fantastic video interviewing David Crystal, an expert on the English Language.  Here is a little information on this expert on the English language from Wikipedia:

Crystal studied English at University College London between 1959 and 1962. He was a researcher under Randolph Quirk between 1962 and 1963, working on the Survey of English Usage. Since then he has lectured at Bangor University and the University of Reading. He is currently an honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor. His many academic interests include English language learning and teachingclinical linguistics,forensic linguisticslanguage death, “ludic linguistics” (Crystal’s neologism for the study of language play),[1] English styleShakespeare,indexing, and lexicography. He is the Patron of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) and honorary vice-president of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). He has also served as an important editor for Cambridge University Press…His book Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 (published in 2008) focused on text language and its impact on society.

Obviously, the guy has some knowledge in the area of language and literacy.

As I watched and wrote notes on his talk in this video, there were some amazing, yet seemingly common sense ideas that he shared.  Here are some of the quotes that I jotted down:

Texting and it’s impact on reading and writing

“It turns out that the best texters, are the best spellers.”

“The more you text, the better your literacy scores.”

“The earlier you get your mobile phone, the better your literacy scores.”

“What is texting?  Texting is writing and reading.”

“The more practice you get in writing and reading, the better writer and reader you will be.”

One of the additional things he discussed in this talk was that we often say, “These kids do not read,” but he quickly dismisses this as a fallacy.  In fact, Crystal goes further to say that kids that text read more than what we did as children because they have more access to writing.  Simply put, they do not read and write the same things that we did.  Looking at my own situation, I have actually read more “books” in the last little while than I ever have, as I carry around a huge book collection all the time on my iPhone and/or iPad.  The ease of access makes it a lot easier for me to read whether it is blogs, books, or yes, text messages and tweets.

David also addressed the idea that the acronyms and slang that we use in our text messaging, shows up in students’ exams, to which he stated:

“(When asked) Do you see these ‘textisms” in your exams, the answer universally is no…the kids don’t do it.”

He noted that there were obviously the occasional occurrences of this happening, but it is an anomaly.  With clear guidelines of where we are writing, our purpose and audience, it should be easy for our students to be able to make the distinction about what writing should look like.  When we ignore the fact that our students text and use digital technologies, I can understand where they would become confused.

Tweeting and our changing culture

Crystal admittedly has not looked deeply into Twitter, but has started to explore it since, as he described it, it is the “SMS system of the Internet”:

“Twitter changed it’s prompt from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?” People are now looking more outwards instead of inwards.”

“If you want to find out about an event, you are most likely to find out on Twitter before any other medium.”

I distinctly remember reading that Osama bin Laden was assassinated before the announcement was made by Barack Obama.  Leaks of the information came so quickly and although it was chalked up to be rumour, it obviously was confirmed after.  More people are turning to the Twitter search function to find out about events in real time from people who are willing to share.  It is rare now that any reporter would not have a Twitter account so they can be the first to share the story, which is much easier from a phone in 140 characters, as opposed to a long article written even on a website.

Moving Forward

Crystal shares some thoughts on how we can help manage this shift in our world and “manage” the way we look at reading and writing:

“Most of us are still in a mindset where we see the book as central and the electronic technology is marginal.  For young people, it is the other way around…We are not going to change that, but we can manage it….put the book into the electronic technology.”

“Every style of language has its purpose, but we have to see what the purpose is…Take an essay and turn it into a text message or vice versa, take a text message and turn it into the essay.”
Crystal addressed the real concern that our attention span has lessened, and with the advent of short snippets of information, making it harder to pay attention to anything at length. Admittedly, the thought of even watching his talk at 30 minutes in length seemed a little daunting even to me, but with all of the information now available, haven’t our standards risen in what we are watching/consuming?  Think about television…we had two channels when I grew up in Humboldt, Saskatchewan,  and we would sit through shows that I would not give a second look at now.  Today with 100’s of channels, the options are much greater, yet I usually find myself going to the Internet anyway where I can have more personalized options of what I choose to watch, read, and even create.
Concluding Thoughts 
Admittedly I have been frustrated by conversations with many regarding the idea that texting is eroding our literacy skills.  I have always been a firm believer that the more we can have our students read and write, no matter how that happens, their skills will improve, as long as we are willing to guide them.  Now, having an expert confirm these thoughts is more than exciting.  I am hoping you will share the video below with others to start some conversation on not only how we can use this medium in our schools, but how we can connect the use of technology into our more traditional forms of literacy. They definitely can serve one another.

14 thoughts on “Texting Improving Literacy?

  1. Carol Robb

    George- an interesting post and one that I agree with. To see my daughter reading Beezus and Ramona on her iPod in the back of my Murano the second day she got it made me realize how technology can improve literacy. She does not like to read, but WILL read books on the ipod or ipad. Our district promotes Information Technology Literacy and each Teacher Librarian is expected to teach our students its' relevance in their education. Texting/emailing/bb messengering, I agree, all help literacy. Since Payton starting texting she sees her spelling mistakes thanks to autocorrecting or asks me how to spell it. All positive growth to build literate and technologically savvy kids.

  2. Danika Barker

    Thank you so much for posting this, George. I'm so happy to have a little back up now when someone says to me, as they so often do, "Come on. You're an English teacher. Don't you think texting is making kids bad readers and writers?"

  3. Pingback: Texting Improving Literacy? « Leetl's Weblog

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  5. Rosio Grafikkarte

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.

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  12. Kamile Ko

    I do not think so… Nowadays people are rushing all the time, so I believe that if we would pay more time for correct texting it could improve our language, but now… For young learners it mey be even harmful. That was the same for my son, but then I discovered this type of learning- ispanu
    and now I am proud of my son, now he teaces me :)

    1. Dalton DeMorrow

      You are speaking of correcting text messages, but do posts not count? You said “mey” not may. I text constantly, and am on the laptop more than spelling. I am using absolutely no abbreviations just to prove a point that it does help.

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