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How Does Social Media Slang Affect Learning?

The Use of Slang

The term “slang” refers to any word or phrase used in informal settings among certain groups of people (e.g. subcultures, regions, etc.). Slang can be a common word or phrase used in a new context (e.g. that jacket is “sick”), a new word or phrase (e.g. her hair is “on fleek”), or a combination of the two (e.g. “tope,” meaning “totally dope”). Despite how much it may confuse “outsiders,” slang serves an important function in the evolution of language by providing an outlet to test new expressions for common objects and emotions.

Slang found on social media sites and in text messages has become its own subdivision of language. These platforms frequently limit the number of characters used to convey messages, requiring users to develop shorter terms and more creative means by which to express themselves. As a result, various odd acronyms (e.g. LOL, OMG, FTW, IDK, etc.) and abbreviations (e.g. “b4″ for before, “2” for to/two/too, “u” for you, etc.) have become infused into everyday communication.

How Does Slang Affect Students in the Classroom?


The rampant use of social media/texting slang by teenagers is largely due to increased accessibility to mobile phones; 91% of teenagers polled in 2015 by the Pew Research Center reported going online at least occasionally from a mobile device. In addition, 73% of teenagers reported owning a mobile phone, and 91% of these teens used it for text messaging. An earlier poll conducted by Pew in 2008 found that 85% of teenagers engage in some form of online personal communication, confirming a small but significant rise in this trend.

Considering how many teenagers are using mobile devices to communicate on a daily basis, it’s not surprising to see anecdotes from teachers and college admissions officers regarding the poor verbal and writing skills they observe on a daily basis. A 2010 study in Communication Researchprovided evidence that frequent use of texting slang negatively impacted formal writing and daily communication, but positively affected informal writing.

Others argue that the use of internet slang improves language skills by permitting creativity through the development of new words and encouraging good editing skills in order to convey messages within short character limitations. Interestingly, the 2008 Pew study cited above found that while 60% of teens don’t consider texting or communicating on social media as “writing,” 64% admit to using this type of language in their schoolwork.

Does Slang Harm Writing Skills?


As mentioned before, there is some data available suggesting that excessive use of texting language impairs formal writing skills, though there is not a standard consensus on how to handle it. Slang is actually an integral part of society, where its use is important in developing and maintaining social bonds. Even professionals use some form of slang, typically called jargon, to simplify their lives and identify themselves to one another.

The use of slang is so important to some subcultures that it can lead to widening of the achievement gap between blacks and non-blacks within the American educational system. It is hypothesized that students must sometimes make a choice between whether to learn their subculture’s slang to fit in or learn proper English to succeed down the road. The need for social acceptance differs between cultures, thus those with a higher need for it would prefer to learn slang over proper English. Also, those that start out with a disadvantage in reading or writing skillsare more likely to be negatively affected by the use of slang, as it further limits their already impaired communication skills.

With these thoughts in mind, it is important for educators to understand and accept that today’s students will always be using mobile devices and social media to communicate with one another. It is equally important to teach students the difference between formal/professional writing and common slang. To this end, educators could leverage the increased use of and access to technology and the internet’s wealth of information and toolboxes to provide proper instruction on formal writing. Slang does have a place in society and learning, but students must be taught what that is and what the converse looks like in order to develop well-rounded communication skills.

List of Common Slang Terms

Slang Term Meaning Commonly Found On…
LOL Laughing out loud Facebook, Twitter, Text
BRB Be right back Text, Gaming
IDK I don’t know Facebook, Twitter, Text
BTW By the way Facebook, Twitter, Text
IRL In real life Facebook, Twitter, Text
2nite tonight Facebook, Twitter, Text
b4 before Facebook, Twitter, Text
OIC Oh i see Facebook, Twitter, Text
FTW For the win Facebook, Twitter, Gaming
GTG Got to go Text
NVM nevermind Text
TTYL Talk to you later Text

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