The Effect of WhatsApp on Teenage Literacy | Science and technology

The Effect of WhatsApp on Teenage Literacy | Science and technology

WhatsApp is a universe without accents, commas or dots; one in which abbreviations require the removal of vowels and words and phrases are substituted emoji, stickers and GIFs. The main thing is not to stop reading – a risk if you don’t use the language. It may seem like an insult to the traditional language, but 17-year-old Alberto Marin finds it strange when people try to write “correctly” on social media. And he is not alone. Ninety percent of young people say they deliberately change their writing style online.

The influence of mobile messages on language has been the focus of experts since the birth of SMS. Various studies show that the language used on WhatsApp and other social networks does not undermine offline writing skills – quite the opposite. But teachers are noticing a change. And not for the better.

Elisa García, a retired language and literature teacher who has been in the profession for 34 years, has noticed a decline over the past decade in the way students express themselves. García left the job last year with the feeling that students wrote texts and essays as if they were telegrams, without the ability to connect ideas and build arguments. “They try to skimp on structures and write disjointed sentences, lacking connectors,” she says. Although some students know the difference between online language and exam language, the average student struggles with spelling, vocabulary and grammar when handling a pen. They are further contested when the text is longer, which was observed in college entrance exams. “There are a lot of complaints from university professors because they have students who can’t write properly,” says Garcia.

Another language and literature teacher, Marta Gutiérrez, agrees that her students have increasingly limited vocabularies and also difficulty expressing ideas in words, not to mention spelling mistakes. A teacher since 2007, Gutiérrez has noticed a marked change in the last two or three years, indicating that the Covid-19 pandemic may be another factor at play. “The fact that they were isolated and without face-to-face teaching for several months took a toll on them,” she says. “It’s like they lost years of schooling.” The use of computers and cell phones to study during isolation has made pen and paper even more foreign than before. Gutiérrez noticed that many have difficulty with handwriting and even holding a pencil: “Their heads go faster than their hands,” she notes.

But while studies have found no evidence to support these teachers’ observations, research suggests that among teachers the observations are widespread. In 2018, Professor of Language and Literature Didactics at Spain’s University of Malaga, Raúl Cremades, conducted a survey involving 652 public school teachers as well as trainee teachers, asking them how they perceived the impact of online messages on their students’ writing. According to the survey, the negative impact on the development of communicative competence is indisputable.

Four years later, Cremades categorically states that social networks lead to the impoverishment of language performance. “We write more than ever, we read more than ever, but the kind of online writing and reading doesn’t contribute to their formation,” he says. This is due to the contagious nature of the beast – colloquial language is used so often that it is mixed with formal language.

High school students in Valencia, Spain.
High school students in Valencia, Spain.Monica Torres

The the fast pace of the digital world means that people do not take their time when it comes to reading and writing. Ana Pano Alamán, a professor of Spanish who specializes in social media and language education at the University of Bologna in Italy, argues that spelling errors are not specific to teenagers, nor are they the worst offenders. A concern with the impact of digital writing is that it leads to very short, direct texts with dialogue. “There are problems when it comes to writing long essays that use connectors like but, besides, or on the other hand,” says Alamán. “These elements are disappearing.”

Errors and inconsistencies mostly affect Generation Z and Generation Alpha – the next teenagers – because they are the ones who spend the most time on mobile phones and have the least experience with formal writing genres. On the other hand, Alamán argues that these generations have developed communication skills through social networks that other generations generally do not have. “There are 13-year-olds who are capable of coming up with a very creative meme in five seconds,” she says. “They manipulate image and text to formulate a new message. A meme is already a genre. It enriches communication.”

Regarding spelling mistakes, the lack of connectors and the difficulty of creating texts with a coherent beginning, middle and end, both Cremades and Alamán believe that the problem could be solved by encouraging the reading of formal texts and studying different genres. “The solution is to train students in the classroom in a formal and informal register,” says Alamán.

According to Cremades, another key is for teachers to be willing to adapt their methods and not give up in the face of new student requirements and challenges. “When a person is well educated, he can always return to the normative roots because he knows them,” agrees Alamán.

Diego Sanz, 18, admits being on “automatic pilot” leads him to make mistakes. “On paper, not so much, but if you’re on a computer, you shorten, especially if you want to write something quickly,” he says. To improve his skills, this audio-visual language student believes he should “take a sheet of paper and a pen” and “start writing seriously, without abbreviations” at least a few days a week. Meanwhile, he continues to use language that is “important to understand.”

#Effect #WhatsApp #Teenage #Literacy #Science #technology

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