Texting 'can boost children's spelling and grammar'

By Judith Burns
Education reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Children holding a selection of smartphonesImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Digital devices are a "pervasive aspect of children's daily lives". They offer opportunities as well as risks say the researchers

Children's unorthodox spelling and grammar while texting does not stop them learning the rules of formal English, suggests research.

Just over 160 children, aged between eight and 16, from the West Midlands, took part in the snapshot study.

The researchers compared spelling and grammar in formal tests and in text messages, at the start of the project and again after a year.

The results showed the most creative texters were among the best spellers.

The children were asked to copy out all their text messages over a two-day period.

'Creative violations'

They were also asked to do a range of spelling, grammar and cognitive tests.

The process was repeated after 12 months.

Image caption,
Word reduction while texting was associated with better spelling-test scores, according to the study

The researchers analysed the numbers and types of grammar and spelling "violations" in the texts and compared them with the same children's results in the written tests.

They found that for the primary age children in the sample, use of ungrammatical word forms and unconventional spelling in texts was linked to better spelling ability 12 months later.

For secondary students, the use of word reduction when texting, was also associated with better spelling.

For primary children, unorthodox punctuation and capital letters were linked with worse performance in the second set of tests but the reverse was true of secondary age pupils.

Primary phonics

Clare Wood, professor of psychology in education at Coventry University, said the results could be put down to the fact that text abbreviation was largely phonetically based.

"So when children are playing with these creative representations of language they have to use and rehearse their understanding of letter-sound correspondences: a skill which is taught formally as phonics in primary classrooms.

"So texting can offer children the chance to practise their understanding of how sounds and print relate to each other."

Prof Wood said the work showed that concerns adults have about the pervasive use of digital devices among children, who are now more likely to read on them than on traditional print sources, "are not supported by current evidence".

The researchers urge schools to continue to teach children the conventional rules of formal written grammar, making them aware of contexts where they are essential and when they can be relaxed.

The work, published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, was carried out by researchers at Coventry University and the University of Tasmania.

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