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Zero to 12: Is technology deteriorating language skills?



As historians remind us, literacy in its earliest form consisted of little more than being able to sign one’s name on a legal document. It was not until later that fluent reading became important and not until the 20th century that reading to gain information and independent writing was given emphasis.

As we move into the 21st century our view of literacy is evolving once again. The prevalence of technology in our everyday lives has grown at a rate that many would have found hard to imagine 25 or even 10 years ago. Educators have had to expand their notion of literacy to include the skills and abilities that will enable individuals to function in an increasingly technological world.

So what does it mean to be a literate member of society?

The growing acceptance of the concept of ‘lifelong learning’ has further developed the view of literacy. Literacy is no longer seen as a condition that one either has or is lacking but is rather seen as a continuum of knowledge, skills, and strategies that individuals attain over the course of their lives in various contexts.

So is technology having a negative impact on language skills?

There are studies which suggest that texting and chat rooms are leading to a deterioration of language skills in children. In social media and communication contexts certain changes to grammar are accepted practice, such as shortenings, contractions, acronyms, symbols, and non-conventional spellings such as:

Text message – gr8 2 no u

Conventional language – great to know you

Text language can be a quick and efficient method of communicating with another person in an informal environment. Abbreviations such as ‘tbh’ instead of ‘to be honest or ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ are certainly practical ones in the hectic lifestyles in today’s world and many will argue there simply isn‘t the time to write messages in full. The fear is, however, that these lazy spelling forms are gradually penetrating and destroying our written language.

Reporters, politicians and business people periodically make claims about how the Internet and texting are destroying children’s ability to write.

Some research, however, has found the opposite to be true. Some studies suggest that text language and the media through which it is employed (instant messengers, Facebook, cell phones) are actually encouraging literacy amongst the younger generation and conclude that nowadays there is more incentive and greater pressure to know how to read and write.

Some people may find this to be an overly optimistic viewpoint, yet one cannot deny that these text language media have attracted many young people to reading and writing at an early age.

The potential long-term damage which text language could inflict upon literacy remains for the most part yet to be seen.

Teachers must continue to support students to identify when formal language is appropriate and teach children the relevant skills to speak, read and write effectively. Fortunately there is no shortage of defenders of language across the globe as many educationalists, journalists, and employers are anxious to maintain its integrity in the print form.


 This month’s article is jointly written by Valerie Thomas-Peter, Director of School and Sarah Shine, Literary Leader Key Stage 2, Primary Campus of The Alice Smith School.

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