Nvate Commentary: Is Technology Affecting Our Ability to Spell?

Paloma Basilio

Communication has evolved several times through the years with the most recent transformation due to the boom in technology. Our grandparents communicated through letters, our parents communicated through rotary telephones and our generation communicates through text messages and social media outlets.

Being that we live in a fast-paced world everything must be communicated in a way that takes the least amount of time. This is when abbreviated words become useful. The use of technology has become second nature to us. We rely on it so much now that if we were to forget our laptops or cell phones we feel like part of our life is missing. Technology is great because we are able to rely on it for just about anything, from keeping in touch with friends to using Google to find where the best martini lounges are. Even television shows have become accustomed to using abbreviations to make it easier for viewers to memorize the shows’ name. Television shows like Good Morning America and American Idol have abbreviated their names to GMA and AI.

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Credit: Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

But what is the downside to all of this? The reliance on technology is causing many of us to lose that valuable practice of actually thinking about how to spell words. University of Washington English professor Jane Lee said, “I hesitate to say that [technology is] making students lazy, exactly. I don’t think that this is really the problem—rather, it’s my sense that the increase in technology-based communication, like texting, means that students get far less practice with writing in a non-casual manner.”

“They write quite a bit—it’s just in a different context than an academic one,” Lee continued. “In that sense, the text-language becomes second nature to them in ways that ‘traditional’ English does not.” The issue isn’t so much technology, but the practice in spelling we are losing.

Now that adults have adjusted to many of the text message abbreviations in order to keep up with what their children are saying, texting and social media may be causing an evolution in the English language. Lee sees this as a move toward yet another evolution of language.

“I do think texting, and other forms of shorthand and casual communication, is here to stay, and I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a negative thing,” Lee said. “I do, however, wish that students were able to practice more than a casual form of writing more frequently.” Since the rise of technology, people have had to adapt to this new movement. The decline of actual handwritten work is causing a majority of people, not only students, to forget the ability to spell.

“I happen to think that language and communication are bound to change—and that it’s necessary, and desirable, to develop our senses of what it means to ‘write well’ along with this change,” Lee said of technology changing the future of writing. “I don’t necessarily have a personal investment in a ‘correct’ form of English I think needs to be guarded. But as we’re still utilizing this English in an everyday context, I do think it’s important to be proficient in it, while also keeping up with new forms of writing.” Change is natural for language but we must not forget the difference between formal writing and writing for entertainment, such as when using media outlets.

The underlying issue could also be that technology gives us the ability to get answers quickly. High school teacher Steven Hall gives an example using a situation from his classroom. “Students are used to getting exactly what they want when they want it. Today I had a boy, frustrated because he ‘couldn’t find the answers’ and ‘why don’t you just help us?’ The answers were right in the paragraph in front of him—he didn’t want to read it. He wanted me to just tell him the answer.”

The way to fix the issue of the students’ mentality of wanting the answer immediately is to keep up the expectations of their work. Hall said if we raise the expectations at the university level we will have no choice but to up the expectations at the high school level to be able to keep up.

“The future of academic writing will only become less formal if universities begin to accept informal writing,” Hall said. “High schools will tailor their instruction to meet the entrance expectations of universities and, perhaps more importantly, to standardized state testing requirements.”

As an English major, I find it difficult to let go of some of the structure of the English language when using technology to communicate. After studying the structure of the act of writing and being tested on my skills, it at times feels as if all my studying means nothing now. I must admit that I still spell out all of my words when writing a text message or Facebook status and cringe when I see abbreviated words or misused words. I know that the technology boom has not yet ceased and there is still more to come, therefore I must grow accustomed to this trend of abbreviations and perhaps even start using some technology lingo as well.

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