Text speak no threat to spelling, may help: academic

Texting l8r, gr8 and u2 doesn't mean kids won't be able to spell any more, according to a UK study.
TANYA LAKE/AFR

Texting l8r, gr8 and u2 doesn't mean kids won't be able to spell any more, according to a UK study.

Don't ban text speak and send the kids to learn the dictionary - academics say the word play may actually help with spelling.

Much as the older generations may flinch at the sight of cu l8r, the sound-based thinking needed to create the text shorthand could be helping - not hindering - youngsters put letters together.

University of Waikato linguistics senior lecturer Dr Andreea Calude sometimes gets emails from her university students with text-style abbreviations in them.

'Language is out there for everybody to play with and use,' says University of Waikato linguistics senior lecturer Dr ...
SUPPLIED/UNIVERSITY OF WAIKATO

'Language is out there for everybody to play with and use,' says University of Waikato linguistics senior lecturer Dr Andreea Calude.

"I kindly point out to them that's not appropriate for that kind of genre," she said.

But she doesn't think parents should be afraid of text slang or social media language wreaking havoc on kids' spelling ability.

In fact, a series of studies by psychology professor Clare Wood, of Coventry University, showed it could improve children's spelling ability, Calude said.

"It just reminded me that the best way to learn is through play. People forget that. So playing around with language is one of the best ways to actually get children - but anybody, adults as well - interested."

The studies seemed to suggest the creativity and language play involved in "textisms" got kids more engaged, she said.

"Language is out there for everybody to play with and use." 

"If we regulate language too much and become too concerned with gatekeeping, we risk children - but anybody - being put off being interested."

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And Calude doesn't see eight being replaced by 8 in everyday written language any time soon, or late changing to l8.

But technology had other impacts.

"You have spell-check on everything these days. [to test spelling] you'd pretty much have to sit people down with pen and paper in an isolated room away from iPhones and any kind of electronic devices to check their spelling," she said.

"Which does really raise the question 'Do we need to be excellent at spelling?'"

There were the classic examples that a spell checker wouldn't get, such as form and from.

Calude also saw learning to spell as a useful learning exercise and said language ability tended to be "a barometer for intelligence".

But "if we were to send kids home with a dictionary and say 'right, you're learning these 20 pages each night'... that wouldn't make them great communicators."

The Ministry of Education said spelling lists and tests could still be found in classrooms.

Spelling was an "intrinsic part of literacy and English", associate deputy secretary of student achievement Lesley Hoskin said in a statement.

"For students to be able to write and read fluently and accurately they need to become proficient spellers, equipped with the knowledge and strategy for spelling unknown words."

And students from around the country have just shown off their spelling skills in the 2015 NZ Spelling Bee.

The competition is aimed at year 9 and 10 students and organisers said entries came in from about a third of the schools covering that age group.

Just 18 will try the tricky words in the last round.

The New Zealand Spelling Bee final will be on October 17 at Wellington's Circa Theatre and the winner will get $5000.

 - Stuff

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