Texting creates sub-par grammar, some say
By Emily Hoover
December 3, 2010
College and high school students are forgetting basic rules of English grammar thanks to endless hours spent sending text messages and chatting on social networking sites, some Florida teachers say.
"Their grammar is horrible, and it's not just the bigger things," said Debra Couch, an advanced placement English teacher at Flagler Palm Coast High School in Flagler County. "Far too many of them don't pay attention to how, what and when they capitalize and their commas are either non-existent or they litter the paper."
Couch said students spend too much time using shortcuts and abbreviations when text messaging and posting on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. As a result, they have forgotten the rules they learned in elementary school.
"I do still have to teach grammar that I feel should have been taught in earlier grades," Couch said. "I hope it's only re-teaching, but it sure seems like many students have not heard of actual rules for language use."
Nancy Smith, 18, a student in Couch's English class, said she does not see grammatical errors in her own writing.
"I use very little abbreviations in my formal writing," said Smith, who said she sends a couple hundred text messages a day. "Texting doesn't affect my formal writing because my texting is always grammatically correct."
She said she has included only one form of text lingo in an academic paper in three years. She also said that her friends—many of them in regular English classes—do not use bad grammar or abbreviations in their text messages.
"I have Facebook and Twitter," Smith said. "I think my grammar is getting better because of texting. Some people, I know it's getting worse. On Facebook, it's fun to point it out."
Carrie Pack Chowske, a communication professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine, agrees that grammatical errors on Facebook inspire laughter. Although she said she only notices "little things, not necessarily text speak," in student writing, she said the information age has created a general informality in verbal and written communication.
"[It comes from] the informal communication we have now with Facebook and texting," Chowske said. "I get it in e-mails. People are not constructing complete and thoughtful sentences and it's basic sentence structure that students are lacking. If you know how to write formally, then you can be informal."
Dr. Kimberly Bradley, director of the Flagler College Writing Center, said she agrees. She said that she recently received an e-mail from a potential tutor who wrote his entire message in text lingo.
"E-mail seems too casual to some people because it is instant accessibility," she said. "They disregard conventions and they cannot differentiate between informal and academic writing. Texting infiltrates everything they do. They're texting everywhere, even in their cars."
Bradley said while she teaches creative writing classes and manages the student tutors at the writing lab, she also teaches a one-hundred-level English class that prepares struggling writers for higher-level classes.
"My main issue is with commas," Bradley said. "Comma splices are number one. I also see so many run-on sentences and have seen crazy rules for capitalization. They capitalize a word that sounds important."
As a way to create better writers, Bradley said that in her class, she presents her students with grammar exercises. She said she shows them everything from what she calls "lowercase run-on vomit," to sentences with abbreviations and sentences perfect for academic writing. She said that she hopes her type of visual learning will teach students the appropriate contexts for informal and formal writing.
Flagler College junior Ryan Camuto, an English major, said that he works as a tutor in the writing center three days a week. He said that he does not see capitalization or punctuation errors as a problem in student writing. He also said that he cannot recall ever seeing text lingo in an academic paper.
"The most prevalent issues are organization issues," Camuto said. "Things like sentence structure and no subject and verb agreement. We work with [students] on sentence variety and help them to create compound and complex sentences."
Camuto, who said he has "a decent sense of grammar for an average, educated college student," said that while young people are writing more because of social media, they are not writing better.
"Condensing has an influence," he said. "If you have 140 to 150 characters to say what you're thinking, you want to add more. You're limited so you omit punctuation and abbreviate to fit in an extra word. I have had to tell students to add more elaboration and description to their papers."
However, Chowske said the character limit promotes concise writing. She said that while social media is part of the grammar problem, reform within the education system would assist in producing better writers.
"You can write something awful in 140 characters," Chowske said, "being direct is not a bad thing. There is not enough emphasis [on grammar] in elementary education. Teachers can't look at their classrooms to do a lesson on commas if they need to because they're too busy with standardized tests."
Leah Hillman, 18, a student in Couch's English class in Flagler County, also said the education system is part of the problem.
"Teachers aren't teaching us for texting," she said. "Instead of focusing on improving grammar and quality of writing, we're learning how to format our papers for [Modern Language Association] style."
According to Jacqueline Betesh, a Flagler College sophomore, informal writing causes confusion.
"One day I got a text that said WRUD,"she said, "and I was like, 'What could that be?' I had to text [my friend] back and she said she meant 'What are you doing?'"
Chowske said while teaching grammar to students is difficult, language is evolving. Exposing students to different types of writing—everything from poetry and music to academic writing and journalism—at an early age will keep them interested, she said.
"I like that every generation puts their mark on language," she said. "For my parents it was 'cool,' or 'bad' to mean 'cool.' Now, it's words like 'sweet' and 'sick.' Someday the same kids who use text speak will be adults. I mean, I used to dot my i's with hearts…that didn't stick with me."
However, Couch said she notices more grammatical errors in student writing each year, especially abbreviations like "b/c" for because and "btw" for by the way. She said that the current generation of writers, as well as the emerging generation, rely on computers and smart phones to write properly.
"I don't know that the skimpy detail in writing is because of texting or emailing," she said, "or whether it is just that students are allowed to get away with short paragraphs for so long that texting is the norm for them. I am just afraid that it is going to become the norm and that students and adults will forget there is a time and place for something far more eloquent and meaningful."