Herald News • Published 05/15/08 • © 2008 Herald News (Passaic Co., NJ) / www.northjersey.com

The last word on teen lingo
Teachers will have none of it on exams

U may not B : ) 2 read this, especially if U R old, but get used 2 it. Text shortcuts — see: OMG (oh my god), L8R (later), BRB (be right back) — are moving from the cell phone and computer screen to the notebook in school.

Sage Hedges, an English teacher at Manchester Regional High School in Haledon, once got an entire test back in electronic shorthand. A student answered every question with "IDK" — "I don't know."

"I looked at the first one and I said 'what?'" Hedges recalled. It took her a second, but she soon realized what IDK stood for.

"Then I was just angry," Hedges said. Admittedly, she was more upset because she had thoroughly reviewed the tested material. The abbreviation, however, annoyed her. "He wasted a piece of paper," she said.

Though several teachers said their students' electronically induced grammatical and spelling errors are most common in informal writing assignments like journal entries or in-class notes, on rare occasions they slip into an essay or, as in Hedges experience, an exam. But several teachers, experts and students said the shortcuts don't concern them too much, noting that even slang has its time and place. Some acknowledged the slip-ups can even be useful, in the right context.

"Language is a very fluid thing," said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist with the Pew Internet and American Life Project who helped author a study called "Writing, Technology and Teens" released last month. "Every generation has had its own slang, its own way to differentiate between formal and informal writing."

And teachers, she added, have always had the job of helping students understand the difference between both styles. "This is really just the next level of that."

Eighty-five percent of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use some kind of electronic communication, according to the Pew report, completed in partnership with the College Board's National Commission on Writing. Those communications include text messaging, sending e-mails and instant messages.

The study, which included telephone surveys of 700 people between 12 and 17 years old and their parents, was completed in mid-November. It also includes findings from eight focus groups in four U.S. cities conducted in the summer of 2007. Almost two-thirds of the teens involved said that some of the informal styles show up in their schoolwork.

In particular, 50 percent said they sometimes fail to capitalize words or don't use proper punctuation, while 38 percent said they have used text shortcuts like "LOL" (laugh out loud). One-quarter of these teens said they have used "emoticons" — itself a new word that refers to symbols such as smiley or frowney faces — in their schoolwork.

Rachael Bianco, 17, a senior at Passaic Valley High School in Little Falls, said the shorthand creeps into her schoolwork all the time. Off the top of her head, she mentioned spelling "right" as "rite" and "by the way" as "btw." She wasn't convinced however that such habits are problematic.

"Kind of, because it's not proper English, it's slang," she said. "But it's shortening things."

John Pasquariello, 17, a junior at Passaic Valley, didn't think text messaging was a serious concern and said that among students keen on doing well in school it was even less likely to be an issue.

"Sure maybe people slip," he said. "But it's not an epidemic. It all depends if you are dedicated to the assignment."

Hedges, of Manchester Regional High School, attributed the use of text message writing in school to unconscious routine or laziness. But when she points the mistakes out to her students, they recognize them as errors, she said. Her concern is that grammatical accuracy is becoming less and less important to students who are used to quick, easy, throw-away text messages and don't value formal language as much.

Most often, Hedges said, her students use "R" for "are," "U" instead of "you," and "2" rather than the standard "to" or "too." She's even gotten "wuz" on an assignment in place of "was."

"That kills me," Hedges said. "Some aren't any shorter than doing it right."

Most teachers agreed that any slang is inappropriate on a formal assignment like an essay, exam or research paper. And they said students need to learn to write well because it is an essential job skill. Jason Agar, an English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson, thinks there are some benefits to the shortcuts, such as helping students take notes quickly — a useful college skill. While he acknowledged that students might be worse spellers as a result of the time spent composing quick electronic communications, he doesn't think it will impede their ability to develop strong writing skills. Rather, it might even help students learn to form cohesive thoughts.

"Because there is so much communication, you're practiced in expressing yourself and your ideas," he said.

***

the 411 on lingo

R — are

U — you

B — be

2 — to or too

2day — today

BTW — between or by the way

Bcuz — because

LOL — laughing out loud

LUV — love

+ — and

IDK — I don't know

: ) — happy

: ( — sad

For a glossary of text messaging shortcuts when you are trying to understand the teen in your household, visit http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/ textmessageabbreviations.asp

Source: Several Passaic County teachers

 

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