Text Speak – The New Foreign Language

A quick scroll through a teenager’s phone, Facebook, or Twitter account might leave you wondering if you have stumbled onto a new foreign language.   Many of us understand the basics: LOL, BRB, U for you, etc.  I use some of them too,  especially when my characters are limited (such as Twitter), but never, ever in formal writing.  It’s just not acceptable. 

When I taught middle school, I encountered a lot of this “not appropriate for the audience” writing (and speaking).  I patiently explained the difference between hallway conversation and classroom conversation; the difference between speaking with your family and speaking at a job interview; and the difference between composing a note or text to your friend and turning in an essay in my class.  Yet, I’d still get a short answer to “What is mitosis?” that looked like this:

a typ of ceL divisN dat rslts n two dAutr cells Ech havN d sAm # & kind of chromosomes az d parNt nucleus

So, I finally gave in.  No, no, no, I did not accept this kind of writing on school work, but I gave the kids  a chance to get it out of their system.  I assigned a one  page essay and it was to be written entirely in text speak.   After that, “u” “b/c” “dem”  was not allowed.  Ever. (For the record, this was graded by peer review, because I’m not sure I could have read 75 essays in full text speak without having a seizure of some sort.)

It really helped put their writing and communication methods into perspective for my students.  After the text speak assignment, I asked them to write the same essay using proper grammar. Then I asked, “Which of these versions is going to get you a job? Into college? An A in my class?”

Whether you want to embrace text speak or not, is entirely your choice.  I think that the important lesson is to help your student distinguish when it is appropriate to use it and when it absolutely not. There are times when writing in a different tone is required. This blog post would not be so conversational were it a press release.   Teaching your child to know the difference is the key.

P.S. Don’t tell your teen I told you this, but I’ve found an online translator: http://transl8it.com/  It might just help you decipher their text messages.


Crystal Pratt is an independent contractor with Calvert Education Services. She has been involved in education for 20 years.  Crystal is a certified teacher, a writer, and a lover of all things that sparkle.