Similar concerns are voiced around the globe. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote about generation Y and texting with the title 'It's ok how we communic8'. They give the reassuring message that rather than killing acceptable forms of language, texting and online chat forums are actually making our youngsters write more than ever. Problems arise when the text speak conventions of the young clash with the expectations of older generations, eg. teachers at school. Dr Bruce Moore, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, is not worried, though:
Most people realise that language is used differently in different contexts. Most people know that while it's OK to be informal with text messages, different rules apply when you are writing a job application.Probably this is mostly true, although I wouldn't take it for granted. A colleague of mine was appalled by a student who, for the first time in this teacher's 20-year career, had finished her national final exam psychology answer with a smiley! It is not automatically clear for many students what style is appropriate in different contexts. The problem becomes even more complicated in the case of foreign languages. Students simply don't have enough experience and exposure to the language to be able to choose the correct register. Our Finnish students' English, for example, is mostly colloquial, spoken language learned from TV and films. Very few of them would be able to produce formal academic texts in English without a lot of guidance and scaffolding. Yet, they are expected to manage this in their final exams if they want to reach the best grades. The problem is accentuated by a lot of English text-speak entering our Finnish language, which makes it sound like part of the standard language. LOL, for example, has become part of young people's everyday Finnish. I have also heard some of our younger government ministers being interviewed in English on TV, and I must say their style of English sounded more like that of a rock star than a serious politician. Although they are quite fluent, their style and register are off-key for somebody in their position. Colloquial spoken English is ubiquitous in Finland, and Finns come to regard it as the current norm. It's a tough job for us EFL teachers to try and introduce the more formal style. Students easily write the formal style off as something nobody but we, old-fashioned English teachers, would use. I have almost weekly arguments over this with students. Are we teachers behind the times, not realizing that communication culture has actually evolved to a new level that we don't understand and appreciate?
In an earlier post I referred to the Finnish research revealing the wide gap between the types of texts students engage in in their freetime and what is expected of them at school. It is true that teachers are not familiar enough with young people's new communication patterns. If we were, it would be easier for us to help them change their register when needed. Rather than being shocked and dismissing students' texting and online communication as something bad and totally unacceptable, we should understand the changes at hand and welcome these new forms of communication. Attitude adjustments are needed from both teachers and students, I feel. Social researcher Mark McCrindle, in the above-mentioned Sydney Herald article, nicely sums up what is expected of today's teachers and students:
Generations Y and Z need to be given the tools which will allow them to communicate effectively with other generations. They also need to know when it is appropriate to use 'text speak' and when it isn't. If they are writing an essay, for example, or a job application, it's probably best to use the language they learnt at school.In our international school projects we have solved this problem by using the Ning platform, where students are guided to use a more formal style to express themselves in their blogs, but still allowed to use their familiar, colloquial style - even text speak and smileys, if they want to - in the discussion forum. I feel this approach is working quite well, if only we teachers take the time to keep reminding and guiding students to keep editing their texts. Quite a few of them need constant reminding, even to run their pieces through the computer spell checks before publishing!
Photo: LOL by sermoa on Flickr