Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Distinction Between 'Writing' and 'Communication'...

Is electronic communication killing the English language and hindering children's development of "real" writing skills?

This is the question that a just-released Pew Internet Survey sought to answer. Most teenagers spend a considerable amount of time sending text messages, emails, and instant messages - usually filled with fragmented sentences and abbreviated acronyms like LOL (for "laugh out loud"). The survey showed that parents believe that their teenage children are actually writing more than they had at any point in their own lives. Yet should these types of digital communications be considered "real" writing? And for that matter, do they help or harm the development of writing skills that will one day be essential for them to hold a professional job?

Perhaps the central finding of the survey is that 60% of teenagers themselves, to their credit, do see the "important distinction between the 'writing' they do for school and outside of school for personal reasons, and the 'communication' they enjoy via instant messaging, phone text messaging, email and social networking sites."

However, 64% also acknowledge that their informal communication styles do often filter into their school work. 50% admit they often substitute their informal styles for proper capitalization and punctuation; 38% say they have used text shortcuts like LOL and BTW; and 25% have used emoticons (symbols like smiley faces ☺) in school work.

Is this a sign of the coming apocalypse? Not at all, and any overzealous reactionaries ought to be ignored. The fact is that kids are writing more than they have maybe at any other time in history, and enhanced communication between people is always positive.

Educators and traditionalists may cringe at the thought of LOLs and smileys becoming acceptable in formal writing submissions, but their fears are largely unfounded. After all, the kids themselves recognize that their informal styles are not acceptable. As an educator myself, the very fact that kids are writing more, and, most importantly, learning to better communicate their ideas, is encouraging enough to trump any fear I might have of grading papers where full sentences are nowhere to be found.


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