Written communication today is not what is used to be. In the past, letters were the best way to communicate with friends and family, but that is no longer the case. In today’s age of information, texting, emailing and social media posts have taken over as the choice means of communicating.
Additionally, where a letter may have been written to one person, many of today’s written communication is targeted to large groups of people. Facebook and Twitter are prime examples. What do your students need to know about the English used in these communication channels?
What Your Students Need to Know About Written Communication in the New Millennium
Spelling is a way of the past
With texting functioning as some people’s main form of communication, spelling has gotten creative. In fact, some would say text is abbreviated and symbolic rather than spelled at all. When an ESL student reads “Gr8” traditional spelling rules obviously will not apply. Some abbreviations such as LOL have even made their way into the dictionary. Your students should be aware that spelling and representative spelling is subjective, and even varies from one individual to another at times. Encourage them that most text abbreviations can be found online with a simple search!
Grammar Is Not Standard
Though it may reflect descriptive grammar more than prescriptive grammar, some rules do not apply in the new written millennium. Of particular note is the lack of pronoun agreement. Spoken English today commonly uses they (third person plural) to refer to he or she (third person singular) particularly when the gender of the person is not known. Perhaps this natural change will affect the future of the English language. Perhaps it can be attributed to the overly conscious politically correct habits in which we have gotten. Regardless, students should know that they and their are commonly used to refer to a singular person in casual speech. As for formal or academic writing, however, using they as a singular is still unacceptable.
Subject dropping is another creative grammar habit in today’s written world. Because speed is of the essence, texters will often eliminate the subject of the sentence, a no-no in English though perfectly fine in other languages such as Spanish. Your students who read these texts will have to do a little deciphering to determine the implied subject of the sentence. Other languages give clues from the verb conjugation, but English will not be of help in that area. Your students should be aware of the context of the message and make logical assumptions as to who is performing the action in the sentence. In addition, they should know that it never hurts to ask if you just are not sure who is being talked about.
What on earth can a colon and one parenthesis mean? Emoticons are an important part of written communication through today’s electronic channels. In some cases, smiley faces and the like will appear in picture form, but often they are symbolically represented by the characters the keyboard has to offer. Being aware that these unique combinations may come through in the midst of text will help your ESL students identify them for what they are. Remind your students that seemingly random punctuation may be more than it appears, and your students should be ready to identify these inserts as pictorial representations, something the English language does not typically contain.
Spam is more than just the canned ham we all love. Our favorite junk emails are forever filling up our inbox trying to catch our attention or lure us into some harmful scheme, and your students are getting all this stuff, too. Some ESL students may not be familiar with the frequent mass spam attacks that come through email accounts and sometimes through text messages. Help your students be aware that these messages exist, and make sure they know what a spam folder and filter are for. By ignoring and deleting the daily serving of spam coming through the electronic system, your students will have more time to focus on what is most important, their language learning.
When & Where
Finally, your students should know the time and the place to use the type of writing that frequents texts and emails. Academic and business standards remain the same, even though what people most frequently write is something all together different. Remind your students that they should not use text abbreviations or casual grammar in their academic papers and business communications. Unfortunately, some will nonetheless. Even though language is an ever changing entity, expectations for more formal or official writing remain the same, at least for now.
Though it is beneficial to your students for them to have experience with texting and email, being aware of its differences from traditional language use is important.
When your students know the time and the place for formal writing and textese, they will be better communicator as well as better participants in U.S. culture.
Have your students asked you about common texting habits? What have you found to confuse them most often?