Guest Writer: Agatha Singer
As it always is with the matters related to teaching, your reaction to some issue should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, if your students start using chatspeak in their creative writing assignments you should stop and think. Why exactly are they doing this? In some cases, this can be considered a legitimate method of expression. But there are also situations where you’ll need to correct this issue before it turns into a bad habit.
Is Chatspeak the Enemy?
There is this trend for demonizing chatspeak today. Demonizing anything social media and Internet-related really. You can see hundreds of articles and hear dozens of impassionate speeches on how children are wasting away staring at smartphone screens, how they make dangerous connections through social media, or how hanging out online, in general, lowers the IQ of an entire generation.
It’s sad to admit that in a way, all of that is true. However, if you stop and think on the matter a bit more, you might remember that a few decades back you could hear all the same things about television.
And before that, there were radio programs, which ‘corrupted the innocent minds’ with scandalous stories.
And before that, people invented print and book burnings came right after that. During some of those, scholars, authors, and printers were burned or buried along with their works. One can only be proud that centuries of evolution made us less brutal and that today people prefer flaming through online comments as opposed to setting something on fire for real.
But do you see the pattern here?
Every time some new way to expand the limits of communication and entertainment comes along, a fraction of society resents it. In the majority of cases, this is the older generation, which grew up with the previous medium and is clearly struggling to master the new one. This begs to question whether the resentment comes from valid concerns over moral and ethical integrity or from one’s inability to adapt to change?
As a teacher, you have to adapt to the times and use the tools that appear every day to teach the skills that are timeless. For example, you can use comic books to teach creative writing and your students are bound to love those lessons much more than picking through some 15th-century poetry. You also can and should use language learning apps when working with ESL students. Acceptance of chatspeak is a part of this necessary adaptation to the times.
Why Do Students Use Chatspeak?
Youths use chatspeak today because it’s fun, because it’s easy, because everyone is doing it, or all of the above. Simply put, this informal language helps them have more relaxed conversations.
This is what’s really important because even a sliver of a chance for kids to be less stressed is extremely valuable. The lack of free time, constant stress, and pressure have devastating effects on the youths of today. They push students to cheat, make them depressed, and drive hundreds of teenagers to suicide. Stress is the main enemy of students, and one cannot deny that a requirement to write properly articulated sentences all the time would add to it. Not by much, but everything counts in such a dire situation.
Bear in mind that the kids of today already write more than their predecessors did 20 years ago. This means that they spend a large part of their life developing that writing skill, which it is your duty to teach.
Yes, they are doing most of that writing with chatspeak, which has little in the way of grammar and spelling that can make anyone cringe at times. However, studies from the University of Alberta and Coventry University prove that using chatspeak does not affect students’ ability to learn and use proper grammar. It doesn’t even interfere with their essay-writing skills and doesn’t interfere with distinguishing between formal and informal language situations.
Therefore, the point is that students are writing more and you should use this trend to nurture their creative writing talents. The trick is to teach them when using chatspeak is appropriate.
When Using Chatspeak in Assignments Can Be Appropriate
The use of chatspeak can be acceptable in creative writing if it’s a tool for creative expression. Therefore, if the character or situation from the work allows for such informal language, you shouldn’t scold your students for it.
After all, how is using chatspeak as a valid form of creative expression different from Burgess’ Nadsat or the vernacular in Catcher in the Rye? Both of those are nothing short of atrocious if you try to measure them against the neat formal flow of ‘good English’. However, those are the details that fill the books with life and personality.
As a creative tool, language is flexible and it’s a joy when students realize this and start bending it to find their own voice. That’s exactly what you should be teaching.
However, there is a different side to this coin. The situation when your student uses chatspeak might not be justified by the plot. In this case, you have a problem on your hands.
It’s a fact that informal language can leak into situations where it’s unwarranted. This can happen not only in writing assignments but also in everyday life. And when it does, the person using such vernacular is perceived as uneducated or rude.
This is what you should be explaining to your students who start using chatspeak all over the place. Impart on them the distinction between the kind of creative situations when this is acceptable and when it’s not. However, do your best to be both gentle and reasonable when doing this. Make sure you explain the issue in detail instead of throwing a blanket ban of chatspeak. This is how your students will be able to understand the nuances of situations where formal and informal language can be applied.
Overall, chatspeak isn’t the devil. Regardless of how much of a traditionalist you are personally, this type of language is the norm today, so you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist or diminish its role in modern society. Therefore, the best you can do is to help your students learn how to use it without offending anyone.
I’m Agatha Singer, a work-from-home mom of two little nuggets. My interests range from the latest business management trends to healthy living and adventurous traveling. I always stay open to new ideas and expertise to make my writings handy and captivating for you. I’ll be happy to see you on my blog: http://www.agsinger.com!
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort is starting this summer, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to receive a reminder email to sign up for Early Bird Access on June 8.