Like hula hoops in the 50’s, bell bottom jeans in the 70’s and the Macarena dance in the 90’s, social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter have become a new fad that people of all ages are into today.
But unlike in the case of the Macarena, reports related to social networking sites indicate an alarming trend. Due to the popularity of the “slang” language used in text messaging and on sites such as Facebook, the level of grammar and spelling in university students has decreased. Indeed, many university students have begun to use this slang in their academic and professional work.
The University of Waterloo was one of the first to take action against these complaints. It now requires students to take an English proficiency test. Almost a third of the students test fail the test; another thirty per cent are just over the passing line. Moreover, the failure rate has jumped from 25 per cent up to 30 per cent within the past few years. The reasons for failure vary between poor grammar and bad spelling.
According to many university professors and academic directors, the blame should also be placed on high school teachers who have not taken the time to teach their students proper grammar usage. Ann Barrett, the managing director of the English language proficiency exam at the University of Waterloo, expressed her frustration at the high school curriculum. “What has happened in high school that they cannot pass our simple test of written English, at a minimum?” said Barrett in an interview with Canadian News.
Rummana Khan Hemani, the director of academic advising at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, reported that many students use emoticons such as happy faces and sad faces in their letters of academic appeal to express their feelings. Other students use words such as “cuz” instead of “because,” along with other abbreviations that have initially started as a way of reducing characters when text messaging.
Paul Budra, an English professor and associate dean of arts and science at SFU, explains that “punctuation errors are huge, and apostrophe errors. Students seem to have absolutely no idea what an apostrophe is for. None. Abso-lutely none.” According to Badra, students almost always misspell words such as “a lot” and “definitely”
“I get their essays and I go, ‘You obviously don’t know what a sentence fragment is. You think commas are sort of like parmesan cheese that you sprinkle on your words… It’s not that hard to teach basic grammar,” said Badra, who warns students that this kind of language will always be looked down upon in traditional corporations.
If technology is partly to blame, technology may also offer a solution. According to Margaret Proctor, University of Toronto’s writing support coordinator, software such as Microsoft Word’s spellcheck may be helping students with their spelling problems.