Using text message language – the OMGs, m8s and 2mros – does not harm children’s spelling abilities, new research suggests, and may even be a good sign. The study, carried out by Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta, suggested that children who are good at spelling “real” words are also good at spelling in text speak.
Professor Connie Varnhagen, who led the research, said: “Kids who are good spellers [academically] are good spellers in instant messaging.
“And kids who are poor spellers in English class are poor spellers in instant messaging.”
It did find that boys who used text speak frequently tended to be worse spellers. However, girls who used a lot of abbreviations tended to be better.
The study also found that children using text speak were using a lot of newly created words. One of the researchers, Nicole Pugh, said: “We would have to decipher the meaning of the language with online dictionaries or by asking younger siblings.”
Professor Varnhagen compared using this new type of language to a “little brain workout”, saying that it required more concentration and attention than simply reading English.
The research looked at around 40 students between 12 and 17. The students were asked to save their text messages for one week. At the end of the week they were given a spelling test.
While the study is a small one, it is not the first research to draw the conclusion that text speak is not harmful for children.
A 2009 report in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology said that regular text-speakers tend to have a better vocabulary and grasp of word reading than their peers, Similarly a 2006 study at the University of Toronto said that instant messenger speaking, which is similar to text speak, does not affect writing abilities in any meaningful way.
The researchers suggest that their trial should lead to an easing of concern over the use of text speak, and teachers should perhaps start thinking of ways that the new language can be used educationally.
Professor Varnhagen said: “If you want students to think very precisely and concisely and be able to express themselves, it might be interesting to have them create instant messages with ideas, maybe allow them opportunities to use more of this new dialect in brief reports or fun activities.
“Using a new type of language does require concentration and translating it to standard English does require concentration and attention. It’s a little brain workout.”