The Language of Social Media

Ever jump on Twitter or read a text and you don’t understand it? This has happened to me a few times in the last few months. The various abbreviations, hashtags and “lingo” of the fast paced text world are often difficult to decipher, and it takes some asking around to find the answers and meanings. I also find many people actually speaking in these abbreviations “off screen,” and wonder if all of the abbreviating, “hashtag-ification” (just found out that #hashtagification is actually a real hashtag), and new slang words are actually changing the way we communicate.

Photo Credit: tyle_r via Compfight cc

In my ELANG class we looked at this idea too, and discussed whether or not our use of “improper” English is detrimental to students’ writing in school. There are a lot of opinions out there, and I think that if you talked to any educator you would likely gather some more. While some articles suggest that there is evidence of a negative impact of social media on student writing, others show the potential that social media text language has to provide learning opportunities and allow students to explore their thoughts and creativity. The same article also links to a great piece on some ways to incorporate ideas of digital citizenship and internet literacy into the classroom.

So you may be wondering, what’s my opinion in this debate about text language? Well, I am of the opinion that students need to understand the proper times and places to use slang and when to use more grammatically structured language. I think that on platforms like Twitter, where you only have 140 characters to communicate and categorize your message that abbreviations are often necessary, but when you’re writing a blog, perhaps they are not. However, the way you write in a blog may not be the same way that you write an essay or report for an assignment. While some people may see the changes in technology and the way we communicate as a negative aspect of our society and a distraction in our classrooms, I tend to look at it as an opportunity for discussion with students.

These children in our classrooms don’t know a world that doesn’t have the technology of the 21st century. They are not “old” like us, and did not have to live through days of only having one household phone, or having to wait until the next day to find out what your friends did that night. These kids have cellphones and Facebook and Twitter where they can keep up with their friends all the time, and so can we as adults and teachers. I feel it is our job as adults and teachers to help kids understand that just because you can text “C u l8r” to your friend does not make it appropriate to write in your English reflection in the same way.

I think that we all also have to acknowledge that we all use language differently in various aspects of our lives, whether it is through text or speech. We likely don’t speak the same way we do to our friends as we would to someone in a job interview, nor would we write the same way we do on Facebook as we would in a letter to a professor. As adults we don’t do this because we understand the uses for these various platforms and how our language needs to adapt to suit the purpose. We have learned these things as the technology evolved though, whereas young students need to be informed about the various audiences that our language is directed to.

The bottom line is that I do not believe that we can blame social media for student’s poor spelling or grammar. As teachers, we just have to recognize that we need to actually explain how language is used in our society. Language use is not just a given, it is a learned process and will vary between communities, countries and cultures.

It may be amusing, to txt #yolo <3 to ur #bff, and he/she will totally understand you, but we have to recognize when that kind of language is useful, and when it is more appropriate to write your friend a nice note, or have a meaningful conversation with them. There will always be #teacherproblems in our classrooms, but we need to embrace the possibilities of social media and educate our students about language as we do it. If you need some help with all the lingo that is out there, here’s a place that might help.

I just hope that one day we don’t all end up speaking like this…

So how is the language of social media really impacting our students where you live? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Or is it just a thing? Are there ways that social media can be helpful in our schools and that teachers can use tools to foster students’ creativity and writing abilities?

2 thoughts on “The Language of Social Media

  1. Paige Mitchell says:

    Yes, awesome video. This is a really interesting discussion to be having too. As an English major, I really love language, so sometimes I get a bit upset at the prospect of people writing and talking in these ways. However, times do change and technology influences us so much that it would be unrealistic to think we can completely prevent these changes in communication. I can see its place on sites like Twitter, because of the 140 character limit, but as you said I still believe the distinction has to be made about when abbreviations are acceptable or not. I remember teaching an ELA lesson plan on story writing and one of the students included an abbreviation (something like “LOL,” but I can’t remember specifically) in their story. I was shocked, but because I hadn’t made specifications, and am all for creativity and the personal aspect of creative writing, I decided I was okay with it in that specific activity.

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