Texting Experiment

As I said last week, a pupil claimed to be able to text more quickly than she could handwrite. Ewan then kindly offered me a loan of a device that looks like a chunky mobile phone without a screen and operates as a usb keyboard.

With the Cre8txt device, my pupils did not manage to enter text very quickly. They complained that it didn't do predictive texting (it does have software to do this) and more importantly that it wasn't like their own phones.

I gave them the sentence "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" as a challenge using their own phones (so sack me!) and the quickest was 12 seconds. I reckon I can just about manage to handwrite that in 12 seconds, and can type it in 8 seconds, so 12 seconds is pretty good.

d pupils complained dat d sNteNc wz unfair cuz it didnt offer NE opps 2 uz d abbrz dat dey alwys uz!

One girl argued quite persuasively that they should be allowed to use this kind of txt-speak in their school notes. I cnt rly c NE diffrNce Btwen DIS & shrt& but I didn't want the school English teachers hammering on my door so I remained non-committal on this issue!

Several things struck me very clearly from our little experiment:

  • Pupils put a lot of time into learning to use their own phones effectively. They struggled when they tried to use someone else's phone;

  • Some young people can write more quickly with their own mobile phone than with a pencil;

  • Young people today are writing vastly more than we did when I was their age. Most of this writing is on computers and mobile phones.

The above points are, of course, generalisations. Some young people do not have computers at home, and some use their mobile phones infrequently.


  1. Very interesting points, Robert. I was about to suggest that a possible difference between shorthand and txt is that shorthand is relatively stable whereas txt is prone to change with fashions i'nit? This could create a danger when squares marking essays and exams weren't hip to the latest groovy terms like what I am, daddy-o. Then I looked up shorthand on wikipedia and was amazed at how many versions there are/have been and how complex the history is. In the light of today's technology, I wondered if shorthand didn't already exist and someone invented it - would they be taken seriously?

  2. I see what you mean about adults not understaning Alan - not everyone can be down wid d kidz like wot we iz ;)

    I don't suppose that shorthand would get very far - for the last 15 years haven't we all been expecting that something better than mouse and keyboard will be coming along very soon?

  3. Syntax & Semantics

    How formal or regulated is the txt speak? Is there an international standard that can be applied? Does it have a common syntax that governs the arrangement and use of letters to form words? Are there words used in txt speak that mean different things to different groups of people?

    The main concern I have over txt speak is the belief that it can challenge written English. Due in a large part to the phonetic nature of txt speak wide differences will appear across the country. So a pupil in the east or the north or the south or the west will spell/write txt speak based on their differing pronunciations. Thus semantics or meaning will be problematic when communicating amongst different groups.

    The fact that someone can txt faster than hand-write is neither a positive of negative argument for either mode of communication. In fact it might be suggested that it's a poor indictment of the education system.

    I'm not convinced that young people are writing "vastly more". One might argue that because they are able to txt and email now compared with 25 years ago this means a vast increase in writing. However I'd be interested in comparing modes and reasons for communicating. I remember writing letters and notes and postcards and diaries, do teenagers these days do vastly more of this?

  4. Hi Kenneth. You seem to have thought about this much more deeply than I!

    Of course txt speak is not regulated or formal, but does that make it bad? I am on very shaky ground here, being a humble maths teacher, but if we look back to the days of Chaucer is it not the case that spelling was much less formal and regulated? We are undoubtedly moving towards greater freedom in what is considered acceptable in written English. I am not advocating anything here, but it entertains me to imagine that this movement may extend to the inclusion of elements of txt speak in formal written English.

    I have no data upon which to base my claim that kids are writing more now than they did in my day, but I am pretty certain that the majority of school pupils never wrote anything outside school when I was a teenager (letter and diary writing were largely the preserve of the privileged classes were they not?), whereas even the most disaffected youths today seem to be sending hundreds of texts every month. Again, though, I have to data to support this. Nor do I know whether or not the sending of texts has any effect on broader literacy skills, although my post probably implied such a correlation.

    My thinking here is pretty woolly, and I really appreciate your taking the time to share your more coherent thoughts :)


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