Mount St. Joseph University

Social media and English

Dateline: student newspaper

File Under: english, social media

When asked how texting and social media have affected the English language and grammar skills, perhaps some would wish to quote the famous R.E.M. song title “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” but perhaps the apocalypse is premature.

The study of the so called destruction of the English language has been filled with various different data points and conflicting reports. In 2012 an ED Tech article reported that “Generation Txt” students showed a decrease in grammar skills with an increase in the use of text speak. They also report, however, that a British study found a correlation between the increases in texting to high performance on standardized spelling tests between eight to twelve year olds.

So why does text speak and social media use get so much blame if the data are conflicted?  “Social media and texting have become a scapegoat,” says Elizabeth Mason, Assistant Professor of English at the College of Mount St. Joseph. “I’ve seen a decline in writing long before social media and obsessive texting.”

Perhaps one reason for the decline in writing and grammar skills can be found in the educational system and their insistence on proficiency testing. “Proficiency testing is too focused on just passing the test,” says Mason, “What I’ve found in my teaching career is that schools that focus on teaching outside the test, usually have students that have stronger writing and grammar skills.”

Mason also believes that if students have a strong writing background, they are more likely to differentiate who their audiences are and avoid using inappropriate text lingo in more professional settings.

While the actual causes for this decline can be debated, it cannot be denied that this new age of technology has affected how this generation of students socially interact with one another. According to the Huffington Post, professors at college campuses across America are claiming that there is very little need for office hours anymore.

Mason has also noticed this sociological shift in communication, but says that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Social media and technology has opened the door for some professors to be more approachable,” she remarks. “Some students feel they have more of a comfort zone by not having to ask professors questions face to face.”

While the medium may be changing, the fact remains that the new generation is communicating more through writing than ever before. Communication and language has constantly been evolving throughout history, so perhaps texting and social media are just the next iteration of this evolution. 

Perhaps the varying opinions on the effect of texting and social media on the English language is the cause of a generation gap, a gap that is going to have to be overcome, especially from a teaching standpoint. 

As Mason has said, paraphrasing Nicholas Carr, a writer on technological concerns, “Students write and learn differently, it is the teacher’s job to harness all these different skills and not laminate on what the students are not doing anymore.”