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OMG! Texting and IM-ing doesn't affect spelling!

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By Margaret Shapiro
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parents, u r gonna be surprised by this, but a study from the University of Alberta says that the abbreviated and unpunctuated language commonly used in instant messaging and texting probably has no effect on your child's spelling abilities. If anything, says psychologist and study lead author Connie Varnhagen, the language variations commonly used in instant messaging and cellphone texting should be viewed as a new language or at least a dialect with its own set of rules for spelling and writing.

Those findings, recently published in the journal Reading and Writing, suggest that parental worries that kids who use "chatspeak" will become bad spellers or never learn how to write well are unfounded. "Young people can compartmentalize their language," Varnhagen said. "They have language that they use on the playground and then school language. They know how to speak in classrooms without sounding like goofballs."

The study was proposed by a group of third-year psychology students who surveyed roughly 40 students ages 12 to 17. The participants were asked to save their instant messages for a week. At the end of the study, the participants completed a standardized spelling test.

Varnhagen said the researchers were pleasantly surprised by the results. The young people surveyed seem to know, without any sort of instruction, that there are "correct" ways of spelling in chatspeak. For instance, "probably" is abbreviated as "prolly," but never "proly"; "want to" becomes "wanna," never "wana" or "wanta"; "should've" is always "shoulda" and never "shuda."

"Kids who are good spellers [academically] are good spellers in instant messaging," she said. "And kids who are poor spellers in English class are poor spellers in instant messaging."

The findings come from a very small group of subjects, but they are in line with other recent studies. One report published in the March issue of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology said that children who use "textisms" on mobile phones may in fact be helping their literacy.


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