Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

IM language and Intuitive Text

July 16th, 2014 · 1 Comment

In Baron’s article “Instant messaging and the future of language discusses the importance in distinguishing “creativity and normative language use”, the author suggests that there is a concern regarding whether younger students, who are early in adapting instant messaging language might hinder the acquisition of formal writing skills.  This article was written in 2005, and engagement in instant messaging has come a long way with with the invention of smart phones.  During our class discussion we talked about the difference between autocorrect and intuitive text.  I argued that the intuitive text technology in smart phones actually promotes literacy. I have two reasons for this.  The first is a personal experience I have had.  I have seen myself shift back to formal spelling in most of my IM conversations on my phone, and it makes me aware of spelling words correctly since I need to have an idea of how to spell something to be able to swype the word.  I have reverted back to using correct spelling simply because it is easier that tapping the tiny keyboard on my screen.


The second is an example that I shared in class. My mom recently bought a smartphone, and prior to that she owned a flip-phone that she only used for calling out and receiving phone calls.  She was not comfortable with texting due to her perception of her English language literacy levels.  However, since familiarizing herself with the smartphone and the app, “WhatsApp”,  she started to message me.  She told me that she loved that her phone gave her word suggestions and spelling corrections, and many times she will say to me “Angela, I learned how to spell another word today!”


Furthermore, after having the opportunity to view John Mcwhortor’s TedTalk during class. His asserted that IM/texting language or what he calls “fingered speech” showcases young people’s ability to be flexible and intelligent in the way they negotiate their use of the English language.  I especially enjoyed his point that people who use “fingered speech” are literate in formally written English and can switch between different registers.  However, if you were to ask an adult who has not had experience with “fingered speech” they might not be able to decipher what is being communicated.
In short, I think it important for students to understand the time and place for the use of different registers in language and as teachers, we definitely need to be cognizant of teaching students which spaces allow for different registers as it arises in specific cases in our classroom, but overall, in my experience during practicum, most students are able to differentiate their use of IM language from formal language in their written work.



Works Cited:

Baron, Naomi S. “Instant messaging and the future of language.”Communications of the ACM 46.7 (2005): 30-31. Web. 8 July 2014.

John McWhorter TedTalk: Texting is killing language! JK!!!

— Angela Lee

Tags: computer-mediated communication

1 response so far ↓

  • johnnie // Jul 17th 2014 at 9:57 am

    Thank you, Angela. You raise some very good points—some mentioned in our class and some not.

    The first thing that comes to mind is the date of the article, 2005. The way we use our messaging devices has evolved a great deal since then, as has the technology that drives them. My initial impression was that auto-correcting was detrimental to spelling and enabled sloppiness while keying. However, I think this position could be overly conservative. While adeptness in spelling might be a matter of pride to me, it could be a roadblock for others who struggle with it and for these the auto-correcting feature is not just convenient, but also educational. Again, the word prediction application plays a similar role. It be seen as negative by a few with particular language skill, but be greatly enabling for those whose skills need improvement. Your mother is a good example of the latter. It’s difficult to argue that messaging technology is not boosting her literacy, and more importantly, her confidence in using the language. The positive association is so vital in this case, that teachers reading this might remind themselves that their students in the future will too need positive associations with language in school.

    It happens that my own mother, while being a fluent and confident speaker of English, is a poor speller. I recall being very young and finding cue cards in the house with practice words written on them. Sometimes she hung them inside the cupboard on the back of the door. Her lack of confidence in the written word was detrimental to her education without a doubt. To this day, she seldom uses a cell phone and has never sent a text or to my knowledge written an email. I wonder if your mother’s experience would inspire my mother to use words with more confidence. It’s difficult to imagine that it wouldn’t help.

    When we consider technology, uses of text and literacy, we need to think carefully about where we position ourselves in arguments and what’s informing our beliefs. On casual texting in its informal code, our own class discussion became somewhat heated. In a class full of English enthusiasts, many showed great pride in the language and seemed to care about preserving it. A small part of me admittedly lies in this camp—I tend to not use “text talk” because the code feels like lazy slang. However, as a child I didn’t use the shorthand, abbreviations or acronyms most of us know today. Still some of it confuses me. But the truth of the matter is I refrain from learning it more as a matter of pride, and suddenly I’m not so sure if that’s a good thing at all. I don’t register switch between these two because I’m not actually comfortable or fluent in both registers. But for those who are—most students will be—register switching will be a necessary and a regular occurrence. If our job in the classroom is to facilitate learning “proper” English, we can aid in this. But I fail to see a reason to attempt to negate this dialect which is evolving simply because I use it less. I don’t know why some of us see this as such an assault on the language anyway. Our language isn’t static and it never has been. I frequently receive casual text messages from colleagues with all the codes one might expect and these colleagues are both excellent speakers and writers of formal English. It seems the LOLs aren’t impeding them whatsoever.

    As a footnote to this comment, I should mention that the computer aided me three times with my spelling in the words above. I’m a terrible speller.


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