Teenspeak: where is it leading teenagers?

Rakshanda Rahman finds out tendencies in teenagers toward becoming too dependent on teenspeak while they feel reluctant to learn proper English; which eventually can cause difficulties in getting good grades or attaining decent jobs

yu10Faster, shorter and cooler – seem to be the three mantras to abide by when teenagers text, email or post on social media these days. And this form of language that is widely known as teenspeak seems to be taking over the answer scripts of exams as well, hurting the grades.
A Daily Mail article conveys that according to Jean Gross, former adviser on children communication to UK government, average British teenagers are becoming unemployable because they use a vocabulary of just 800 words. These teenagers limit their vocabulary building severely because they tend to rely heavily on teen-speak. The severity of the issue among teenagers is more or less same worldwide including Bangladesh. Modern teenagers are rapidly going away from using formal language, which can hurt their education and careers immensely.
Some local teachers say that traces of teen-speak are beginning to show on exam scripts and assignments. Even though still small in number, some students slip into the habit of writing teen-speak on exam scripts. ‘Teenspeak still doesn’t directly hamper exam scripts that much. However, written skill does not develop fully because of teenspeak dependency. Spelling mistakes also become inevitable,’ says Rubaba Rahman Bhromor, chairman of School of Business at People’s University of Bangladesh (PUB).
‘Our students go through rigorous writing exercises under close supervision before exams, so it helps them overcome the habit of using teen-speak. However teen-speak sometimes show up in their assignment drafts,’ says Farina Haq, an English lecturer at Brac University.
‘In Bangladesh less than a quarter of total teenagers use teen-speak on exam scripts. However there are differences between the three mediums of studies. Teen-speak trend is more seen by English medium students who usually come from a certain socio-economic class,’ says Mabruka Toaha, an English teacher at British Council. She also thinks that English medium students have more access to products that promote teen-speak. Most teenagers don’t feel the need to express their emotions with full sentences, these days, hence teen-speak. ‘It saves a lot of time and at the same time it’s pretty cool and trendy too,’ says Nowhar Rahman, an eighth grader from Sunnydale. Some teenagers might also just use ‘lol’ to comment on the matter, as many of them heavily rely on lol when they have nothing specific to say or want to avoid awkward conversations.
‘Spelling, grammar and also in terms of exploring ideas, teenagers these days hardly delve deep into any topic or subject these days. They don’t like getting into details or gain in-depth knowledge about things. They assume that everything can be achieved following short cuts, just like talking and writing in short forms. This attitude of sticking to short and easy will have a drastic effect on their lives later on,’ asserts Mabruka Toaha.
In defense of using teenspeak, many teenagers come up with the argument that it is cost effective as well. Using teenspeak lets cell phone users give more information in one sms, a money saver, but of course education and the ability to make eloquent conversations should not be the opportunity cost. ‘I believe there should be a proper guideline that everybody should follow in class and also while using social media when they are communicating. Teenspeak users normally come from 12-24 age group,’ says Kazi Mahmudur Rahman, assistant professor at the Department of Media Studies and Journalism at ULAB.
Social media platforms like twitter play a huge role in promoting teenspeak. Twitter allows only 140 characters for posts, leaving no option but to concise statements.
The growing use of hashtags also encourages the use of teenspeak. If you want to get more likes and followers on Instagram you will have to post comments with hashtags. ‘Social media and their emphasis on marketing trendy applications are solely responsible for this’, says Fouzia Haque, Senior English Teacher at South Breeze school in the capital.
Hollywood movies, television shows, hip-hop songs, celebrities and also their life style tend to play a big role on the communication stylistics of the youth as well. ‘Teenspeak obviously started in developed countries like America first and gradually spread to other parts of the world. And I think this might have started around 20 years back’, says Tahmina Zaman, senior lecturer at Department of English and Humanities at ULAB.
‘Teenagers use teenspeak because they want to fit in, and adults are also beginning to use teenspeak these days. I believe with effective social change we might be able to influence people to use proper sentences. There should be campaigns about writing English properly. Facebook and other social media could also promote the concept of writing proper English’, says Kazi Mahmudur Rahman. Another negative side of teenspeak is that students who are really bad at English may never want to learn the proper form of English if they could get by using teenspeak.
‘I have seen teenage groups in my class who have lower acknowledgement of real English but they are quick to grab few slangs and teen words and memorize them.  They have a good control over those limited stocks which they use frequently,’ says Mabruka Toaha.
Teenagers now can get into severe problem later on when they look for jobs, face interviews due to lack of adequate knowledge of formal English. Apart from writing one also needs to be strong in presentation, brainstorming and constantly deal with formal official documents. Teenspeak does not build vocabulary inventory and it takes a long time to build up the vocabulary collection. No matter how cool fleeting trends seem, the ability to speak and write in a sophisticated and eloquent manner will never go out of fashion. That’s why there’s never truly an alternative to reading books and writing, as much as you can.

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