It’s not unusual to hear complaints about the prevalence of techspeak in everyday communication. Techspeak refers to language adaptations that frequently involve the use of shortcuts by removing or replacing letters and even entire syllables to quickly write a message that only allows for a limited number of characters. Parents complain about getting nonsensical messages from their kids, teachers complain about misspelled words in their students’ work, and bosses complain about the unprofessional spelling and grammar used by their employees.

So it may come as no surprise that a recent study published in the journal New Media & Society found that tweens (kids between the ages of 10 and 12) who frequently use techspeak when they send out SMS messages show a markedly poor performance when given a grammar test, even if the test includes only concepts they have already studied.

Study author Drew Cingel, a doctoral candidate in media, technology, and society at Northwestern University who completed his undergraduate degree in communications at Penn State, explained tweens probably find it difficult to switch between using techspeak and normal grammar and spelling, reports

The study involved giving middle school students a grammar assessment test that had been vetted to ensure that the test included no concepts that the students hadn’t been taught yet. Students were then surveyed about their texting habits and how important they thought texting was. After getting the test scores and survey results back, researchers were able to determine that more frequent texting had a negative effect on test scores, as did the frequent use of tech speak.

"Overall, there is evidence of a decline in grammar scores based on the number of adaptations in sent text messages, controlling for age and grade," Cingel is quoted as saying. He and fellow researcher S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications and co-director of Penn State’s Media Effects Research Laboratory, believe that tweens are naturally inclined to imitate friends and family, and when you combine this with the difficulty in switching from techspeak to proper grammar, it may explain why they make so many mistakes.

As Sundar puts it, "In other words, if you send your kid a lot of texts with word adaptations, then he or she will probably imitate it. These adaptations could affect their off-line language skills that are important to language development and grammar skills, as well."

So what can you do to keep the slide in your child’s grammar and language skills in check? After all, taking away your child’s texting privileges may just make him or her more resentful about what you’re trying to achieve.

For one thing, use proper grammar when you’re communicating with your tween—even if that means paying a few extra pesos for longer text messages. Encourage your tween to do the same. Have your tween communicate regularly through channels other than texting. For example, if you’ve got a family e-mail or social networking group, encourage your kids to post or e-mail regularly, updating relatives on the goings-on in their lives. Ask your relatives to respond (using proper grammar as often as possible) so your kids are engaged in back-and-forth communication that does not involve techspeak.

You may also want to encourage your child to read more, thus exposing him or her to well-crafted language, and talk to your child’s teachers to find other ways to encourage the use of good grammar at school and at home.

(Photo by PictureYouth | via Flickr Creative Commons)

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