How Does Text Messaging Affect the Ability to Write & Speak in English?

Written by veronica starovoit
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How Does Text Messaging Affect the Ability to Write & Speak in English?
Can the English language go head-to-head with this popular device? (texting a message on pda device image by Paul Hill from

Millions of ludicrous e-mails are surfacing on the web, sent from students and job seekers to professionals, using made-up words like "i" and "come2u." It may not be the fault of schools, friends or even television, but because of the vastly popular communication craze, text messaging. Text messaging, even more so than e-mails, uses choppy lingo and sloppy spelling to get a quick and short message across. While teachers and professionals are pulling out their hair trying to figure out why text message spelling has become mainstream, not all studies about the phenomena are telling people to worry. People's abilities to write and speak English properly may still be safe, or even bettered by text messaging, as long they know when to leave it on their cellphones.


Text messaging or "texting" was only developed and released to the public in the mid-1990s. By 2009, 60 per cent of the world's population already had access to a cellphone, and texting was the second most common way to use the technology to communicate, after speaking person-to-person. Studies about how text messaging affect reading and writing began emerging in the early 2000s. It was obvious that with an almost universal limit of 160 characters and a tiny, awkward keyboard that was usually QWERTY-based, the majority of text message users would likely sacrifice correct use of language for speed.

Around the World

Text messages in different countries around the world have produced varying ways to spell and write in English. In the United States, abbreviations (e.g. "ur" for "your" and "you're"), word shortenings (e.g. "feb" for "February"), and acronyms are very common. In Sweden, on the other hand, text message users more commonly write in all lower case or all capital letters, omit spaces between words, and alter the spelling of words from correct to phonetic (e.g. using "beecuz" instead of "because"). The impact of this is that, after prolonged use, spelling mistakes like this become unintentional. Additionally, if English-speaking countries around the world begin adopting different ways to write, there will be communication barriers in the future. On the other hand, teenagers everywhere are writing and editing more nowadays than in any previous generation.


The general consensus about text messaging that scholars in every discipline are giving is positive. Studies in medicine have shown texting is a great way to communicate with patients about recovering after they leave the hospital. Business scholars are saying text messaging can be used to recruit employees (for instance sending a message about a special project available to a few people at once) and also to advertise. Even environmental studies have shown that sending texts about clean water sources or images of deforestation help locals on the other side of the globe find these important areas. So, while texting has numerous helpful uses in the informational and research side of communication, other, more harmful forms of texting do exist.


Some schools have made having cellphones during tests against the rules, but that does not seem to deter students from trying to use texting to cheat. Cellphones can easily be stashed in backpacks, pencil cases and pockets, and although teachers are wising up to the use of texts to cheat, the number grows exponentially every year. The repercussions of this on writing and speaking are obvious--students are not studying as much as they should, cannot generate and communicate ideas on demand, and the risks of being expelled or failing school greatly increases because even if they're not caught, teachers can detect plagiarism and even place "red herrings" like fake test keys online to make cheating students fail. One example of this occurred at the University of Maryland in 2003, when 12 students were text messaged answers off a fake answer key the professor posted online as soon as an exam started. Faculty members suspected students of using cellphones to cheat, so they set up this sting to catch them in the act, which they successfully did.

Effects on Speaking

Texting has been used in place of speech to mediate conflicts, stay in touch with family members and friends, and increase intimacy in all types of relationships. Teenagers and adolescents commonly use "small talk" in text messages to communicate about issues of little importance to them. This, however, is a way to deviate from talking about issues adults would deem more "socially relevant" and creates tension between the values of the two age groups. An example of this is when a teenager sits at the dinner table texting about sports to a friend. The teenager's family would probably prefer to talk about their day, but according to several studies, what the teenager texts about with his friend is more beneficial to how he communicates with the public. Because the teenager is shifting his communication to the world outside the family, he becomes less shy and more likely to open up to new people. On the other hand, since his talking is based more and more on an electronic platform, speaking which should be done face-to-face, like breaking up with a girlfriend or listening to a teacher in class, is moving to texts and online and driving intimate conversations away.

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