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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.1 Learning through communication

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Figure 2 Technology offers new opportunities for learning by communicating.

Children learn a huge amount from the people around them through interacting and exchanging ideas. Very often we learn new facts and information by talking, speaking and interacting socially, and this is most evident in text messages and smartphone applications such as social networking or instant messaging.

A new way of writing and speaking has evolved through text messaging on mobile devices. In some ways, children are learning by creating and inventing new modes of communication.

Children are basically learning a new kind of language that is still evolving, and converting spoken to written language in interesting ways. The use of text message abbreviations is often referred to as ‘text speak’ or ‘textisms’ (Underwood and Farrington-Flint, 2015). While some people consider text as a method of communication can convey derogatory messages (Kleinman, 2010), the advantages of text speak are its speed and immediacy, particularly in creating newer versions of our written English. Consider these examples, where children were asked to translate text abbreviations into standard written English:

4got 2 call k8 2nite bcs i woz studyin, i h8 xamz

LO! How R u? I havnt cn U 4 ages

hi m8 u k?-sry i 4gt 2 call u lst nyt-y dnt we go c film 2moz. hav U dn yor h/w?

Im goin out w my bro & my best frNd tomorrow

Do U wnt 2 cum along?

(From Plester et al., 2008, and De Jonge and Kemp, 2012)

How easy was it to decipher the meaning of these text messages? For many children it’s easy, although for others it can seem like a completely new language.

Optimists view text message abbreviations as playful, inventive and creative features, but pessimists feel that they threaten more traditional standards of written English, leading to a generation of ‘linguistic ruin’ (Cingel and Sundar, 2012). For the slightly older age groups there are similar arguments about the use of Twitter, suggesting that abbreviations found in tweets are often shorthand forms that reflect nothing more than examples of poor grammar (Grosseck and Holotescu, 2008). However, the sheer popularity of texting among children prompts us to question whether these academic critiques are in fact correct.

And not all academics share the same opinion, as you’ll see in the next section.